Hard Rock casino proposal met with public enthusiasm at Bristol, VA City Council hearing

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BRISTOL, VIRGINIA (WJHL)- The proposed Hard Rock casino & hotel project received overwhelmingly positive feedback at a public hearing held on Thursday. Bristol, Virginia City Council heard in-person and emailed comments from citizens at a special-called meeting.

“As a business owner I think it’s a great idea,” one Bristol resident said. “Where else are we going to have the opportunity to bring these high paying jobs to our area?”

Hard Rock was the only casino operator to submit a proposal for building within Bristol city limits by the May 8th deadline. With the proposal came a partially-redacted 307-page report detailing plans to transform the former Bristol Mall.

A letter from Hard Rock’s president and CEO describes the casino including a 750-room hotel, fine-dining restaurants, shops, a convention center, and concert venue for thousands of guests. Hard Rock estimates the casino resort will allow $15-20 million in local tax dollars to be collected annually.

“Am I betting on Bristol? You betcha,” one person commented through email on Thursday.

Another commenter requested that the city commission an independent study on the financial impact of the casino before holding a referendum.

“My own preference is that you, our councilmen, have the safety net of an expert analysis before approving the casino operator,” the commenter wrote.

City Manager Randall Eads said he looked into hiring a gaming analyst when there was the possibility of multiple proposals to consider.

“Because we only had one proposal submitted to the City of Bristol, I did not move forward in hiring a gaming analyst to review this proposal,” said Eads.

Despite the enthusiasm for the Hard Rock Bristol project at the public hearing, Eads said the casino proposal still has a way to go before becoming reality.

“At this point, I don’t consider this a sure thing,” Eads said. “And if the people of the City of Bristol, Virginia want this project, they better get out and support it. And they better talk about the good things that this project can bring to the city. Which will be jobs, capital investment, and more people to the city spending more money.”

Mayor Neal Osborne said the casino’s fate will come down to November voting turnout.

“If you’re in favor of it, you need to be out there voting for it,” said Osborne. “If you’re against it, you’re going to be out there voting for it too. Whoever can turn out the most people is who’s going to win. But I do believe most of the city supports it.”

Eads said City Council will review a resolution at their May 26th meeting to name Hard Rock their preferred casino operator. If it passes, their application will go to the Virginia Lottery Board.

If the state Lottery Board approves the application, the city can then officially request a casino referendum for the November ballot.

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