‘We just got a moonshot’: Bristol business community reacts to city’s casino referendum passing

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BRISTOL, VA (WJHL)- Developers are now starting the gradual process to transform the former Bristol mall into a Hard Rock resort after a referendum on casino gaming received wide support from voters. 71% of city residents voted ‘yes’ while 29% voted ‘no.’ Hard Rock Bristol is expected to open by late 2022.

Some local business owners in the area surrounding the future casino site feel like they’ve already won the jackpot.

“I’ve been praying for it for two years,” said Randy Webber, owner of Farmer & Odell Market.

Webber knows his store is about to get busy. The gas station sits right across from the casino development site, a project estimated to cost over $350 million to build.

“Business is going to double, triple. We’ll get new registers in here and I’ll have two employees at all times,” he said.

Webber said the property can’t be sold but the business can.

“I’ll hang around until someone makes me a good offer. I’ve already been retired once, I want to do it again,” he said.

Bristol Gardens & Grill owner Matt Shy’s restaurant is also near the Hard Rock site. He’s looking forward to Hard Rock visitors and tourists discovering his barbecue spot.

“We’re looking forward to all the benefits and the financial possibilities that will come with having a ‘big boy’ show up where there was an empty building,” Shy said.

Hard Rock officials said they’ll offer millions of dollars in vending opportunities for local businesses to supply goods and services for the resort. Bristol Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Beth Rhinehart said they’ve already been flooded with calls and emails from businesses wanting to get involved.

“People from all over wanting to know how they can be a part of this process,” Rhinehart said. “So part of it was just ‘hold on until we get through the referendum.’ And now we’re just ready to help people be connected.”

Bristol’s economy has been stressed by debt and a pandemic. The casino referendum’s passage has filled many in the business community with new optimism.

“It couldn’t be more exciting. And it’s not just us. It’s all the people that I’m talking to every day that are so stressed about ‘What are we going to do? What are we going to do?’,” said Shy. “We just got a moonshot. This is humongous. Not only for myself but for the community.”

Hard Rock will now work to get the project licensed. But officials expect to have a smaller temporary casino set up at the mall’s former Belk store by next fall while they finish the full facility. 

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