City officials have made a slight change to create a significant loophole. During Tuesdays City Planning Commission meeting, Vice-Chair Kim Sudderth questioned something she noticed on the documents filed by the Headwaters Resort and Casino to confirm their temporary casino in Harbor Park. The address of Harbor Park had changed slightly from 150 Park Ave to 200 Park Ave. Officials in the room confirmed that “as part of the Casino development, the address was changed.”
The change appears to be related to where the Pamunkey Tribe is legally allowed to operate a temporary casino. The Code of Virginia on casino gaming states that “temporary casino gaming is to be conducted at the same site referenced in the referendum.” However, the referendum passed by Norfolk voters explicitly quoted 200 Park Ave. It also states “on property east of Harbor Park Stadium,” directly excluding Harbor Park.
The Norfolk Tides website, social media, and almost any official Norfolk government document from the last decade says Harbor Park resides at 150 Park Ave. Yet, when the Pamunkey Tribe applied for their conditional use permit at the site, the application used the address 200 Park Ave.
The move to change the stadium’s address required no vote on the part of the City Planning Commission or City Council, as far as we can tell, and could have been executed exclusively by Planning Department staff and the City Manager’s office. Speakers at the City Planning Commission confirmed the city had already made the change.
It’s still unclear whether that change will be enough for the gaming commission to grant the license. The referendum’s language excludes Harbor Park, and the Virginia Lottery Board has yet to issue a license to the group.
The change could even jeopardize the entire Headwaters Casino Project. The Code of Virginia states that the Lottery Board can deny permits for any reason that “would reflect adversely on the honesty and integrity of the casino gaming industry,” including knowingly making false or misleading statements to regulators.
Even if the Board leniently decides the address swap is not a directly false statement, a behind-closed-doors expansion of the project beyond the bounds of the referendum could still be seen as misleading or lacking integrity.
The address change may also be a move to shield the eventual sale of the land to the casino developers. State code requires casino operations to be on privately owned land, excluding public facilities like Harbor Park. The terms suggest that all or parts of Harbor Park may need to be sold to developers for them to proceed. Lumping Harbor Park property under the same address as the larger casino project could be a move to avoid scrutiny from selling one of the city’s most prized public assets, as it could be brought to the City Council as a single sale of the property at 200 Park Ave.
Opponents of the casino referendum in 2020 are not pleased with the move. Carrie Edmonson Short, one of the leaders of the No Casino campaign, stated bluntly, “this is not what voters thought they were voting on.” She expressed concerns that “Yes” voters may have voted differently had Harbor Park been on the project proposal.
Short fears that these changes are indicative of an untrustworthy development team. “I’m very concerned this is going to come back to bite us in the butt. This deal has been one bait and switch after another.”
Proponents of the project may not have much to cheer about either. The temporary casino moves could endanger the gaming commission license and open the project to a new front of litigation. Both of which could delay or diminish project tax revenues.
The conditional use permit featuring the new address still needs to go before City Council. The next meeting is scheduled for June 14th, but no agenda has been released. Council has to approve this permit before the Lottery Board will issue the casino license.
Paul Stetson Rice
Paul is the creator of NFKVA.com. He was born and raised in Norfolk, graduated from Virginia Tech, and narrowly avoided law school. Chat with him about economics, entrepreneurship, hip-hop, and hiking. When he's not working on five different projects, you'll catch him sharing a beer with friends at a local brewery.