High stakes for Bristol: Nov. 3rd referendum will determine fate of Hard Rock Resort & Casino

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BRISTOL, Va. (WJHL)- Developers have called a proposed casino and resort a ‘moonshot,’ a ‘catalyst,’ and a ‘grand slam’ for the economic rebirth of Bristol, Virginia.

They envision a sprawling Hard Rock destination, complete with restaurants, retail, and an outdoor concert venue that can hold up to 20,000.

The longtime vision could be mere days away from becoming a reality. But first, voters will have to say ‘yes’ during Bristol’s November 3rd referendum.

The proposal filled community members with excitement at a recent information session put on by Hard Rock executives.

“This is the biggest thing to happen to the central Appalachian Mountains since Daniel Boone went through Cumberland Gap and opened up the west,” one man said, causing a burst of laughter and cheers from the crowd.

Leaders know the city’s economic future is at stake. Bristol, Virginia’s most recently available audit from 2019 listed the city at $108 million in debt.

Meanwhile, Hard Rock plans to spend an excess of $350 million on construction to transform Bristol’s old mall into a magnet for incoming tourists. Hard Rock executives said no taxpayer money will be going to towards the project.

“It’s not just about casino gaming. It’s about creating a destination resort, creating lots of activities and fun things to do,” said Hard Rock Chief Operating Officer Jon Lucas.

Opposition to the casino has come most vocally from church leaders citing concerns of addiction and criminal activity. Support for the project has come from Bristol’s city council, Chamber of Commerce, over 45 small businesses, and a list of first responders – including the police chief. 

Their enthusiasm springs from estimates the project will create 2,000 direct jobs with an ​average worker making $46,500. It’s also projected to generate over $16 million in new annual tax revenue.

News Channel 11 asked Hard Rock officials where these estimates come from. Senior Vice President of Business and Casino Development Sean Caffery said the company used a few different forecasts.

“We have some internal models that we do,” said Caffery. “But we also hired Spectrum Gaming to come in and prepare a forecast that dictated what they believe to be not only the direct job numbers, but also the indirect job numbers, the induced jobs, and then all the associated benefits with construction.”

Hard Rock says they’ll be a big part of Bristol for the indefinite future – if voters say ‘yes’ on November 3rd.

“We’re about entertainment and hospitality, and by the way, we also happen to have some gaming associated with that. So we’re excited to be here,” said Lucas.

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