Norfolk Harbor Park Stadium Address Change Allows Temporary Casino Operation

Norfolk’s Harbor Park minor league baseball stadium has changed addresses. The change will help the effort to temporarily bring casino gambling to the venue.

Harbor Park in Norfolk, Va. The minor league baseball stadium recently changed its address, and the new designation allows casino gambling to operate inside the riverfront facility. (Image: Google)

Harbor Park is home to the Norfolk Tides baseball team, which plays on the Triple-A level — one grade below Major League Baseball (MLB). The stadium is owned by the City of Norfolk.

Harbor Park opened in 1993 located at 150 Park Avenue. But city officials recently readdressed the stadium to 200 Park Avenue.

While local leaders say the change isn’t directly related to plans to open a temporary gaming space inside the stadium while construction of the adjacent HeadWaters Resort & Casino is built next door, the new address certainly remedies what could have been a regulatory nightmare.

Norfolk voters during the 2020 presidential election backed a local referendum to allow a casino resort to be constructed on 13.5 acres of land adjacent to Harbor Park that is presently a parking lot. Local voters backed the election question with a little more than 65% support.

The city partnered with the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and billionaire Jon Yarbrough, a gaming industry veteran whose fortune is estimated at north of $3 billion, for its casino opportunity. HeadWaters is a $500 million undertaking that includes a casino floor with approximately 3,000 slot machines, 150 table games, and a sportsbook, plus a 500-room hotel, as many as seven restaurants, luxury spa, convention space, concert venue, and rooftop pool overlooking the Elizabeth River.

Referendum Language

The 2020 ballot referendum Norfolk voters approved specifies that casino gambling, with their blessing, would be authorized only at the “approximate street address of 200 Park Avenue.”

With HeadWaters not expected to open until 2024, the development group and Norfolk City Council are planning to open a temporary casino inside Harbor Park. The interim gaming space would allow HeadWaters to begin obtaining market share in Virginia’s forthcoming commercial gaming industry and begin generating new local tax revenue.

The Pamunkey Tribe, Yarbrough, and city officials are targeting a temporary casino in what was formerly a restaurant and boxing club inside the stadium building on its lower level. But with Harbor Park’s address being 150 Park Avenue until last week, the language of the referendum could have caused legal concerns with placing slots and table games inside the baseball property.

However, Norfolk City Council spokesperson Kelly Straub told to The Virginian-Pilot that the address change was not simply to allow gaming at Harbor Park.

This is part of a boundary adjustment, which is a routine measure on a redevelopment project such as this,” Straub said.

HeadWaters wants to place 628 slot machines inside Harbor Park, and complement the facility with a 130-seat restaurant. The Norfolk Planning Commission last month approved a conditional use permit for the stadium casino.

Former Tenants Out

The HeadWaters temporary casino is to occupy the former Hits at the Park restaurant and the city’s Boxing and Fitness Center. The eatery closed amid the pandemic. The Boxing and Fitness Center has been relocated to the city-owned Park Place Multi-Purpose Center on W. 29th Street.

With Harbor Park’s address now permitted to house casino gambling, Norfolk will need to apply for a gaming license with the Virginia Lottery. The state agency in April made history by issuing Hard Rock Bristol the commonwealth’s first-ever casino permit. Hard Rock plans to open its temporary casino in Bristol early next month.

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