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Virginia: Cordish sues Norfolk city over Pamunkeys’ approved casino project


Waterside operators allege they have a deal with the city giving them the first right to open a casino


ordish Companies, the operator of Waterside entertainment center in Norfolk, Virginia, is suing the City of Norfolk, the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority (NRHA) and Norfolk City Attorney Bernard Pishko, alleging they have an agreement with the city that gives them the first right to open a casino, and not the Pamunkey Indian Tribe.

The tribe is proposing to build a $500-million resort casino in Norfolk near Harbor Park. The Headwaters Resort and Casino project, less than a mile from Waterside, was approved through a voter referendum in November 2020. 

Cordish is now asking for $100 million in damages in the lawsuit complaint, which was filed June 15. Cordish is asking a judge to void Norfolk’s contract with the tribe, which would prevent the construction of the casino, WAVY reports.

Norfolk District Associates — the LLC formed by Cordish Companies to redevelop Waterside — contracted with the city to redevelop the project in 2013. Before the contract, the city and NRHA had taken over ownership and operation of the failing project, which originally opened in 1983. The lawsuit says the city suffered significant losses over the years it managed Waterside, including $1 million in 2008 alone.

In 2013, when Norfolk District Associates and the city struck the lease deal, more than 90% of Waterside was vacant, according to the complaint. In the lawsuit paperwork, Waterside claims the city and the NRHA promised to support Norfolk District Associates in the development of a casino if the state of Virginia legalized commercial gaming.

The General Assembly passed a bill to legalize commercial gaming and casinos in Virginia last spring. In March 2020, Cordish threatened to sue if Norfolk allowed the Pamunkey tribe to build their casino first. At that time, it sent a letter to the city saying it was in “material breach of multiple provisions” of its agreement with Cordish. Cordish spoke out once more in November after voters approved the Pamunkey tribe’s plan with a nearly 2:1 margin. At the time, Cordish said they would move forward with a lawsuit.

“[Norfolk District Associates] and its redevelopment contract were crystal clear: without the City’s commitment to make Cordish its exclusive developer for casino gaming, [Norfolk District Associates] would not undertake the herculean task and significant economic risks of redeveloping The Waterside,” the complaint reads.

The complaint also claims the city, NRHA and Pishko — the city attorney named as a defendant in the lawsuit who negotiated the original Waterside lease with Norfolk District Associates — conspired with the Pamunkey tribe and others to cover up “unlawful conduct against the Norfolk District Associates “through the illegal manipulation of state legislators, local officials, and the public.”

The lawsuit claims Pishko has a personal agenda in favor of the tribe and the tribe’s consulting firm involving in the casino project and purposely shuffled Norfolk District Associates out of the running when it came to the state legislation on casino gaming. The lawsuit also claims Pishko said he was the “real mayor” of Norfolk — which he denies.

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