In the city of Portsmouth, officials have scrapped plans to build a casino on the Elizabeth River opting instead for a casino to be part of a proposed entertainment district to be located inland where I-264 and Victory Blvd converge.

In a presentation during a City Council work session on Monday, Robert D. Moore, Portsmouth’s Economic Development Director, recommended that a casino be the anchor of a development to be built next to Tidewater Community College’s Portsmouth campus some 13 miles inland from the 6-mile-long tidal estuary.

According to NBC affiliate WAVY-TV, during a presentation to council members, Moore said…

“This is a superior site with direct access off the interstate and 50 acres.” Adding that, “The city wants more than just a casino.”

Buy back:

The site in the independent city in the Commonwealth of Virginia was once proposed for a mixed-use development, “Victory Village,” which, according to the news agency, the property was bought back by the Economic Development Authority (EDA) last year in a $5.1 million settlement.

Whether or not the EDA’s request for the land to be marketed for an entertainment district with casino gaming will be decided on Tuesday when the City Council is scheduled to vote on the proposal.

Development features:

Under the plan submitted, the following could be included int he entertainment district:

  • 4-star hotel
  • 30 restaurant & retail outlets
  • Movie theater
  • 400,000 square foot gaming and entertainment facility, with a 3,000-seat performance venue, restaurants and meeting space
  • 3,000 space parking garage

Moore reportedly estimates that the development could create some 4,000 jobs and that a total investment of approximately $550 million would be required, as the project was laid out by city staff.

Location preference:

After the City Council meeting on Monday, Portsmouth Mayor, John Rowe (pictured, middle) reportedly said that the proposed entertainment district is “a very good use for that site.” Adding that, “It’s a better location for a casino. It makes it part of a larger development. I think it’s the kind of thing that gives you goosebumps when you think about the location.”

If a majority of the council vote “yes,” it would cancel plans for a casino proposed at the site of the former Holiday Inn on the Elizabeth River waterfront and would “open up new possibilities for that site,” said Moore.

Proposal scrapped:

John Lawson, who heads Hampton Roads-based general contractor and construction company W.M. Jordan, said in an interview with WAVY in January that for 2 to 3 years he had been in talks with the city regarding developing the waterfront property where the hotel once stood. Lawson said at the time that the possibility of a casino was brought to his attention that hinged on legislation being approved by the General Assembly.

Legislation approval:

Fast forward to March 22, 2019, and Senate Bill 1126, that allows for commercial casinos to be constructed in Bristol, Danville and Portsmouth, three economically challenged cities in the southeastern U.S. state, was signed into law by Governor Ralph Northan.

The construction company was in negotiations with the EDA for the project but that is reportedly no longer the case according to Moore.

Portsmouth Mayor Rowe, however, told the news agency that negotiations with a yet to be named developer are underway and that it’s likely that taxpayers with help split costs.

Rowe said, “There will be plenty of opportunity for public input.”

Agreement timeline:

Moore reportedly laid out a timeline, where within the next two months a Memorandum of Understanding with a developer could be reached, to be followed by a development agreement by spring 2020.

Via the legislation (SB1126), the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) is directed to conduct a comprehensive study of casino gaming regulations in the state, with the report generated to be submitted by the 1st of December this year. The new law additionally establishes framework for gaming to be overseen by the Lottery Board and would also allow for voter referenda on the subject to be conducted by certain localities.

SB1126 details:

Traditional casinos are still illegal in Virginia, and the General Assembly must re-enact the legislation during its coming 2020 session, and if that happens, a series of deadlines must be established.

Only certain cities meeting the criteria outlined in the bill would be permitted to add casino gaming.

Rowe said, “The project will move forward with or without the casino,” according to the news agency.

During a special meeting in City Council Chambers on July 30, a presentation regarding the project will reportedly be given by Meister Economic Consulting.