The City Council of the Virginia City of Bristol unanimously selected Hard Rock International as its preferred casino operator at a Tuesday meeting.
The selection process was very much a formality since Hard Rock was the only company to respond to Bristol’s request for casino plan submissions, and city leaders expressed their support to the project pitched by the Florida gaming and hospitality giant months ago.
Hard Rock Lone Respondent in Bristol Quest for Casino Operator
While Hard Rock might have officially been selected as Bristol’s preferred casino operator, the company still has a long way to go before materializing its plan to build a hotel-casino complex at the site of the former Bristol Mall.
A recently approved state law authorized the development of Las Vegas-style casino complexes in five cash-strapped cities around Virginia, including Bristol. However, city voters have the ultimate say on whether their cities should or should not host gambling venues.
The fate of Hard Rock’s Bristol casino scheme is now set to be decided on November 3 when a citywide referendum will be held.
Bristol leaders and Hard Rock first need to submit the casino plan to the Virginia Lottery Board. City Manager Randy Eads said Tuesday that they expect to do that early next week.
If the regulator approves the plan, the City Council will then be asked to approve a resolution asking the Circuit Court to order a November casino referendum. The City Council is likely to pass the resolution in July or August, Mr. Eads said.
A Giant Step
City leaders were very generous on positive comments on the proposed hotel and casino resort after the Tuesday meeting. Bristol Mayor Neal Osborne said that the Tuesday selection of Hard Rock as a preferred casino operator was a giant step and that the company’s plan “not only will […] help our budget with tax revenue, but it will change the quality of life and the face of the city completely.”
Mr. Eads said that Hard Rock has hit every single factor the City Council had to consider before selecting the company as their preferred casino operator.
The Tuesday approval came after residents of the city gave overwhelmingly positive feedback about the project at a public hearing that took place May 21.
In a statement, Hard Rock said Tuesday that its project would be “a game changer for Bristol” and that would be “a catalyst for the entire region, helping to create jobs at local businesses that will serve the 4 million tourists a year coming to Bristol to enjoy our outdoor beauty and visit the many wonderful entertainment, cultural, and recreational attractions across Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee.”
Hard Rock told City Councilors on Tuesday that it plans to begin development work by erecting a 300-room hotel that could be expanded to up to 750 rooms, based on guest demand. The hotel will also include a spa, fitness center, and pool area.
The casino at Hard Rock’s Bristol resort will initially feature 1,500 slot machines that could be expanded to up to 2,700 gaming devices. The casino floor will also include about 100 table games and a sportsbook area.
The entire hotel-casino complex will feature seven dining outlets, four bars, 30,000 square feet of retail space, 50,000 square feet of meeting and convention facilities, a 3,200-seat indoor entertainment venue and an outdoor entertainment venue with capacity for 20,000 people.
Presenting the project on Tuesday, Hard Rock SVP of Casino and Business Development Sean Caffery said that they “think the people of this city will embrace Hard Rock and will help us help the city and take Bristol’s brand around the world.”
Mr. Caffery also noted that Bristol would not be Hard Rock’s smallest market as some of the 13 casinos his company owns serve smaller and more remote markets. The Hard Rock official elaborated that they think in Bristol they have the “right mix of heritage and culture” and will bode well there.
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