A senior development manager from Caesars Entertainment advised Danville City Council this week that the opening of Caesars Virginia resort in 2023 is “unrealistic” due to cost, labor shortages and challenges found at the construction site.
The $500 million casino resort is under construction at the former Schoolfield Mill in Danville. Caesars recently selected Baltimore-based Whiting-Turner construction company to start the project. Whiting-Turner built the Caesars Horseshoe Casino in Baltimore that opened in 2014.
Robert Livingston, senior vice president of development for Caesars Entertainment, told the Danville City Council on Tuesday any contractor or vendor that's interested in supporting the construction can connect directly with Whiting-Turner.
Five casinos and Virginia sports betting are permitted under state gaming laws.
Not the First Changes in Project
Since first being unveiled in 2020, the casino project has already gone through several changes. The resort now has a price tag of $500 million, $100 million more than initially anticipated in the development agreement. The new design also includes 500 hotel rooms inspired by local scenery — 200 more rooms than the original concept.
In September 2021, Livingston said Caesars will probably be north of $500 million on the cost of the project. “It sounds like a lot of money, [$500 million], but you can eat it up pretty fast,” he said. “Especially in today's day of commodity prices.”
Since that comment last fall, Livingston told council members Tuesday night, “We have seen, just like everybody else in the United States, we've seen supply chain issues and other market forces that continue to wreak havoc on pricing.” Livingston continued, “None of this has altered our commitment to Danville, which remains as strong as ever.
“Whiting-Turner will mobilize as quickly as possible. You should see representatives of Whiting-Turner around town really soon,” Livingston said. “We expect them to be fully mobilized by June. Demolition of the finishing plant that began in March will also continue into the summer. That's overseen by DH Griffin, a contractor out of Greensboro, North Carolina."
'Cost More' and 'Take Longer'
“Unfortunately, many of these same issues lead to increased cost, particularly with supply chain material cost, labor shortages are also slowing down construction projects everywhere,” Livingston added. “The way of the world today is, it's gonna cost more and it's gonna take longer. That's just the reality of where we're at.”
On top of these general market wide issues Caesars has also identified several site specific challenges to the Schoolfield site, mainly 100 years worth of concrete. “We're digging up a lot of concrete on that site,” Livingston said.
“Considered altogether these factors make the December 1, 2023, anticipated opening day we all wanted is gonna be an unrealistic goal,” he announced to the council. “It's not gonna happen. We remain confident that this project will open its door in 2024. We will share a revised target opening as soon as we feel like we have the confidence to make that prediction.”
Payments to City will be Made
In the meantime, the City of Danville will begin receiving subsidies payments from Caesars before the resort actually opens. “So beginning in September 2023," Livingston said, "Caesars will be obligated to make a minimum annual payment of $5 million even though the resort has not yet opened.”
Livingston concluded his update to the council with a plan to have an official groundbreaking event at the construction site in late May or early June.
In November 2020, casinos were approved by Virginia voters for Danville, Norfolk, Bristol and Portsmouth.
Richmond’s first attempt to join that list was defeated by voters in 2021. It now has approval for a second referendum in November to build a casino.