The revamped Waterside developer has taken the city of Norfolk to court under the allegations that the local authorities have broken their agreement to help establish a casino at the entertainment center and participated in a conspiracy to make sure the operator could never succeed.
Back in 2013, Cordish agreed to revamp the troubled Waterside through a limited liability company (LLC) named Norfolk District Associates. In its lawsuit, filed at the beginning of the week, the Baltimore-based company argues that it would never have adopted the expensive and risky project in case the city of Norfolk had not agreed to back a casino from Cordish as soon as the state legalized casino gambling, which finally happened last year.
Now, the operator has accused the city of Norfolk of using workarounds to turn down the company, while at the same time trying to attract the Pamunkey Indian Tribe and its billionaire investors to build a casino instead. In the lawsuit, filed in Richmond Circuit Court on June 15th, the company is seeking damages estimated at $100 million, on top of punitive damages, lawyer fees, etc.
The legal action claims that the city breached the contract between Norfolk and Cordish as soon as the city authorities approached the Pamunkey Tribe in 2018 for building a casino there. The plan was publicly unveiled in December 2018 and started a movement to address, and eventually legalize, commercial casinos in Virginia. Since then, the Native American tribe and its supporters have received state approval to open the Headwaters Resort and Casino in very close proximity to Waterside.
Norfolk Wanted to Cut Cordish from the Waterside Casino Project, Lawsuit Claims
The legal action against the city of Norfolk is especially aimed at Bernard Pishko, a long-time Norfolk City Attorney, who had participated in the negotiations of the deal regarding the redevelopment of Waterside. The Cordish now alleges Mr. Pishko in violating the contract terms, trying to hide it, refusing to work with the company and directing lobbyists to push a piece of legislation that has been aimed at excluding both the operator and the Waterside location from the casino project.
According to the court filing, the Norfolk City Attorney overstepped his authority and even went further by boasting he was the city’s “real mayor”.
The newly filed legal action says that the local authorities went too far, as they lobbied to add a clause to the state legislation at the very end of last year’s legislative session, with the clause being specifically made to cut Cordish from the project.
The ownership of the Waterside property was taken over by the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority in 1999. Currently, it leases it to the limited liability company of Cordish.
According to the lawsuit, Mr. Pishko and the city authorities tried to cover up the scheme by making an amendment to the exclusivity deal with the Pamunkey Tribe to only be effective so that it did not interfere with the contract with Cordish. The suit claims that this happened months after Norfolk authorities for the housing authority clause under which Waterside was excluded from contention for any casino approvals. The enactment of the legislation was considered an act aimed at prohibiting Cordish from establishing a casino venue at the Waterside District.
So far, both the city and Mr. Pishko have maintained that Norfolk’s deal with the Pamunkey Tribe did not violate the contract with Cordish in any way. Furthermore, they claimed they had not been legally responsible to help Cordish get a casino.