The new owners of the former Bristol Mall in the city of Bristol, Virginia, want to spend $150m to bring casino gaming to the state with a 90,000 square foot casino, along with 90,000 square feet dedicated to children’s activities, and 25,000 square feet for sports betting.
Virginia is one of seven states that doesn’t allow casino gambling, but with Governor Northam approving a bill to bring in horse racing and off-track betting at four locations this year, the hope is that casinos will be next.
The development, which wants to attract more than 3m visitors after its first five years of operation, would also include indoor and outdoor swimming pools, restaurants, suites, fitness center, live entertainment, spa, salon, shops, boutiques, goods from artisans and craftsmen, wedding and event venues, family arcade, go-kart racing,a kid’s waterpark, business center, miniature golf, museum of local history, golf and baseball simulators, convention and conference center and even virtual games. It could also include a 600 to 1,000 room hotel on site.
The project is the brainchild of two local businesses United Company and Par Ventures, with both of them being local businesses, bought the vacated Bristol Mall earlier this year. They say that once a resort casino license is granted, the vacant yet very well maintained Bristol Mall would be developed, at no cost to the taxpayers of Bristol and Virginia, into a world-class casino entertainment resort
Jim McGlothlin, Chairman and CEO, The United Company, said: “This is personal for me. I have lived and worked here my entire life. Everyone in the region, and across the state, knows the major challenges we face, many of which are unique to Southwest Virginia. From the loss of jobs, and limited career opportunities, to the opioid epidemic, these challenges have been well documented. This project is our chance at a ‘moon-shot’. We want to give local residents a bright and secure future for many generations to come. Good-paying jobs are the key to giving folks a reason to stay in the region and also to move here. At the end of the day, that’s why I’m doing this, to help folks in this place I call home, Southwest Virginia.”
Bristol’s financial struggles have been well documented, as have those of the coalfields of Southwest Virginia. The recently announced closing of Bristol Compressors will cost the area nearly 1,000 jobs. Historically among the poorest areas of the state, Southwest Virginia suffers from high unemployment, limited job and career opportunities, a declining coal industry and a growing opioid addiction problem.
Clyde Stacy, President, Par Ventures, added: “Jim and I have been blessed with successful business careers here in Southwest Virginia. We are putting that success behind this major project to benefit the entire region, building the Bristol Resort and Casino here at the Bristol Mall. What that means in real terms is that we are not asking for any government support for this project. Our plan is to build it all with private dollars. This is our chance to provide lasting, meaningful support to a community that has supported us for so many years.”
If Virginia approved casino gambling in 2019, it would still take 18 months to complete the first phase of mall renovations and improvements, with an opening date in late 2020 or 2021.
The casino would have quite a catchment. Neighbouring Kentucky and Tennessee don’t allow casinos although North Carolina, West Virginia and Maryland do. The nearest competing casino would be in North Carolina, 130 miles away.
The two companies believe a full scale resort casino in Bristol would employ 2,000 people during the first year of operations, growing to more than 5,200 within seven years. A resort that could provide 5,200 direct jobs with an average salary of $46,000, within seven years, with wages and benefits of more than $200m each year. A resort that could bring more than 4,000,000 annual visitors to the area, creating an economic impact to Bristol and Southwest Virginia exceeding $1bn annually and totaling more than $4.5bn during the first five years of operation.