BLOUNTVILLE — More flights should come to Tri-Cities Airport if a Bristol casino project is approved by Bristol, Virginia, voters in the November general election, advocates of the project told the Airport Authority during a Thursday Zoom meeting.
“If something like this is successful, it could add a lot to our air travel,” said airport Executive Director Gene Cossey. “The air service side of this is extremely important to us.”
Those flights are expected to come from non-gaming states Georgia and South Carolina, and Dallas, Texas, because most gaming in that state is along the Mexico border.
The advocates claimed the project would create about 3,500 direct and indirect jobs and attract 4 million tourists annually to the former Bristol Mall property.
Leaders of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Bristol project have formed a Vote Yes For Bristol referendum committee.
Serving in an honorary role as committee co-chairs are: Jim Allen, chairman of Hard Rock International and CEO of Seminole Gaming; Jim McGlothlin, chairman and CEO, The United Company; and Clyde Stacy, president, Par Ventures. The 2020 general election ballot in Bristol, Virginia, will feature the following question: “Shall casino gaming be permitted at a casino gaming establishment in the City of Bristol, Virginia, at 500 Gate City Highway, Bristol, Virginia 24201 (former Bristol Mall) as may be approved by the Virginia Lottery Board?”
United Company Presi- dent and Chief Operating Officer Martin Kent noted the $300 million project is expected to include up to 750 hotel rooms, a 50,000- square-foot conference center, a 20,000-seat outdoor concert venue and a 3,000-seat indoor concert area.
“Hard Rock will operate the hotel and casino. There will be connectivity with their other resorts here in the U.S. and abroad, so we will have truly international reach,” Kent pointed out. “Bristol will be given the opportunity to draw from a large pool of highly sought after performers. ... We expect restaurants and a shopping experience. People are going to come here and stay and play and participate in many attractions as well.”
Kent also stressed the project will add $15-$20 million in local tax revenue annually to the city’s coffers.
COVID-19 hasn’t negatively impacted gaming as severely as other industries because of regional casinos, said Kent.
“We would view ourselves as a regional casino,” he told Airport Authority members. “Given our connectivity from Atlanta, we would include that as part of our regional traffic.”
Eighty percent of the project’s guests will come from outside the region, said United Company Vice President and Legal Counsel Jason Eige.
Bristol, Virginia, City Council members are backing the project, as is Kingsport Chamber President and CEO Miles Burdine.
“The region will benefit,” Burdine said in an email.