As Norfolk is slowly making progress in its negotiations with a developer over the future casino plans, a legal battle started by another city’s business partner over the casino development rights is still in court.
The Baltimore-based developer Cordish Companies took the city to court in 2021, arguing that Norfolk violated its contract and actively sought to exclude the waterside area next to Harbor Park from being the site that would host a casino. Last year, the litigation was dismissed by a Richmond judge, but Cordish Companies appealed the ruling.
At a hearing that took place on July 12th in Virginia’s Appellate Court, the parties argued over the language of the 2013 Cordish Companies contract with the city and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
The development operator’s legal representative, attorney John Lynch, explained that the scope of the Waterside lease language regarding the establishment of a potential casino was not taken into account by the trial court. The company initially argued that it would have never agreed on the current conditions of the deal if the city had not also agreed to provide some financial support to Cordish Companies’ casino bid. Attorney Lynch shared that the company would have never agreed to make a $43-million investment if the city of Norfolk had not agreed to subsidize the project.
Norfolk Game Permission to Pamunkey Indians’ Land Deal Back in 2019
Under the provisions of the Waterside lease agreement of the Norfolk District Associates, neither the city nor the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority would subsidize or provide any grants for an entertainment and dining area development of more than 75,000 square feet similar to the project for a total of 10 years.
In court filings, the city of Norfolk argued that the Waterside lease never allowed for the place to be used as a casino, so it could not be considered the same as the HeadWaters Resort and Casino project.
The city of Norfolk gave the green light to a land deal with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe in 2019, with that move preparing the stage for the development of the HeadWaters Resort and Casino situated in close proximity to Harbor Park. In the following year, city voters gave their approval to a referendum seeking to allow gambling at the proposed location. However, in 2023, negotiations over the casino have faced numerous obstacles and plans for the casino project have not been officially approved.
Now, the city of Norfolk claims that while the Waterside lease contract opens the chance for negotiations to amend the lease if state lawmakers bring some changes to gambling laws to allow gaming at the location, that did not happen, so the city has no obligation to subsidize the company and help it obtain state Government approvals for a casino.
The legal action seeks damages totalling $100 million. There is no deadline for the court to make a final ruling on the litigation. As explained by a city spokesperson, for the time being, the lease agreement at Waterside between Norfolk District Associates and the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority remains in full effect.