Johnson: Casino holds key to further Pinnacle development

BRISTOL, Va. — A casino holds the key to a proposed $500 million development on the Virginia portion of The Pinnacle, developer Steve Johnson said.

Johnson continues to urge the Virginia General Assembly to consider a proposed $250 million casino and hotel that would be operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, as part of his plans to develop 350 acres in Washington County, Virginia.

Lawmakers are currently considering legislation to allow casinos in five cities and the city of Bristol already has a proposed casino project for the former Bristol Mall. It is the lone Southwest Virginia location eligible for a casino license, so legislation would have to be changed for Johnson’s project to even be considered.

Since the two sites are less than three miles apart, there has been some public speculation about why Johnson doesn’t build the water park and hotel, music amphitheater and other proposed amenities and not try to compete with the proposed Hard Rock Bristol Resort and Casino.
“I don’t think it works that way. That’s like saying I could have put Bass Pro at the Bristol Mall and the remainder of The Pinnacle remains where it is,” Johnson told the Bristol Herald Courier this week, referring to the commercial development on the Tennessee portion of the property off Interstate 81’s Exit 74. “That just doesn’t work.”

Johnson said creating synergy is the key to large-scale commercial development.

“It’s critical mass and synergy and traffic patterns and pent-up demand,” he said. “The idea that you have thousands and thousands of people at this hotel casino, and they can simply walk to the music venue or walk to the golf venue or walk between the casino and the hotel water park — you can’t do that when you have to cross Interstate 81. That’s what we’re talking about — across the street — and the street is I-81.”

A casino is essential to attracting crowds because it holds the “honey that attracts the bees,” Johnson said.

The water park and hotel are estimated to cost $150 million, the golf venue and amphitheater $20 million apiece, a mountain roller coaster $10 million and additional retail and dining is projected to be a $50 million investment.

The Pinnacle currently has about 1 million square feet of shopping, dining and entertainment options, but he said additional dining would be needed to meet the demands of the large numbers forecast to visit the proposed new attractions.

Collectively, Johnson projects the casino would generate $38 million annually in gaming tax revenue for the state and $9.4 million for Washington County, but he proposes that the county strike an unspecified revenue-sharing agreement with Bristol, Virginia.

A state study forecasts that the Bristol casino would generate up to $130 million in annual net gaming revenue, $35 million in state gaming tax revenue and $3.7 million in local tax revenue. However, it was completed before Hard Rock International announced it planned to manage the hotel and casino.

Story courtesy of David McGee/Bristol Herald Courier:  Link

Chief Sneed shares commitment with Washington County VA Supervisors

ABINGDON, Va. — Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (EBCI) shared how the benefits of a planned $500 million investment by his tribe and Pinnacle developer Steve Johnson in a casino, lodging and entertainment complex at The Pinnacle with Washington County Virginia’s Board of Supervisors this week. The presentation helped clarify the intentions of the tribe and dispel misinformation about the initiative.

“Gaming is how we’ve turned a five-county economically depressed region of western North Carolina into one that is thriving through employment and funding for much needed government and social programs,” said Sneed. “The funds that can be generated from our casino and entertainment complex at The Pinnacle can have the same positive impact for Washington County Virginia and the region.”

Chief Sneed was joined by Pinnacle developer Steve Johnson and Greg Habeeb, an attorney for the two parties. “We are not asking the board of supervisors for anything here tonight,” said Habeeb. “We are here to share what this $500 million economic development project can give to the county and the region.”

“Every other project in every corner of the state is a casino project. This is something is something totally different,” said Habeeb. “Ours is a major economic development project anchored by casino.”

“Funds from gaming and lodging at our two casinos in North Carolina have enabled us to build a hospital, a drug and alcohol treatment center and fund more than 400 scholarships for our tribe members,” said Chief Sneed. “We do this through a foundation whose membership includes state and local government officials and not for profit organizations in our region. We would encourage the same for Washington County. We would like to see an emphasis toward funding programs for mental health, opioids abuse, obesity and workforce development.”

The project includes a 50-acre casino and hotel, a 15,000-seat outdoor concert arena, a mountain coaster, golf entertainment venue, a luxury hotel with indoor waterpark and additional retail and dining facilities. The complex will create 3,300 jobs with a total annual economic impact of $305 million. Direct annual income to Washington County Virginia through property, sales and lodging taxes is estimated at $9.4 million annually. The Board of Supervisors would direct those dollars toward funding education, law enforcement and infrastructure improvements in the county and towns within.

Sharing an aerial map of the Cherokee Casino/Pinnacle Virginia Development, Habeeb provided data on the economic impact the project will bring. “The 350-acre site adjoins an existing 250-acre shopping complex that drew 5.2 million visitors last year. Those visitors spent $200 million in taxable income in Tennessee. Our location is along Interstate 81 and two Federal interchanges that recorded 8.2 million vehicles last year. Our project is pre-loaded with proven success,” Habeeb said. The Cherokee casino and hotel are projected to generate $200 million in gaming and lodging sales and $100 million in annual payroll to the 2,000 employees of the Cherokee operation. The new Pinnacle development in Virginia will generate an additional $105 million in sales and employ 1,300 at its new venues.

When asked by supervisor Saul Hernandez to address reports that the Cherokee were not serious about a Washington County Virginia casino, instead trying to block competition from another proposed casino nearby for the tribe’s North Carolina casinos, Habeeb said the statement was untrue. “Only three percent of visitors to the Cherokee casinos are from Virginia. The tribe views Virginia as a completely new market for its gaming and lodging operations.”

When asked by Hernandez about the need for additional law enforcement, fire and emergency medical services and equipment because of the new complex Chief Sneed said that funding from the development would support those needs. Steve Johnson said that existing water and sewer infrastructure to the 350-acre site already exists. Johnson also said that a new access road to The Pinnacle Virginia development would be built.

“We understand that the debate on making the right choice for communities like those in Washington County Virginia is just beginning here and in Richmond,” Habeeb concluded. “We welcome the debate and will respond to questions or concerns through the process. We wanted the Board of Supervisors to be the first to hear directly from Chief Sneed that his tribe is sincere in their vision for becoming a valued member of this community and being the anchor to a half-billion-dollar economic development project for the region.”

Here are additional economic details on the development and for more information, visit

Cherokee Indian/Pinnacle Development
Stated Investment of Casino/Pinnacle Dev.: $500 million
  Cherokee Casino and Hotel: $250 million
Pinnacle Hotel/Waterpark: $150 million
  Golf Venue: $20 million
  Mountain Coaster: $10 million
  Amphitheater: $20 million
  Retail & Dining: $50 million
  Total: $500 million 

Projected Casino Annual Revenue: $200 million
Projected Annual Revenue from The Pinnacle Virginia Operations: $105 million

Projected Annual Income to Washington County, VA
  Annual Real Property Tax
  Casino/Hotel: $1.4 million
  Hotel/Waterpark: $850,500
  Retail & Dining: $283,500
  Golf Venue: $113,400
  Mountain Coaster: $56,700
  Amphitheater: $113,400
  Total: $2.83 million

Annual Personal Property Taxes
  Casino/Hotel: $680,000
  Hotel/Waterpark: $127,500
  Retail & Dining: $42,500
  Golf Venue: $17,000
  Mountain Coaster: $8,500
  Amphitheater: $17,000
  Total: $892,500

Local Sales Taxes
  Casino/Hotel: $810,000
  Hotel/Waterpark: $850,500
  Retail & Dining: $400,000
  Golf Venue: $120,000
  Mountain Coaster: $20,000
  Amphitheater: $150,000
 Total: $1.82 million

Local Lodging Taxes
  Casino/Hotel: $1.25 million
  Hotel/Waterpark: $1.13 million
  Total: $2.38 million

Gaming Revenue Local: $1.5 million

Direct Annual Income to Washington County VA: $9.42 million

Additional Income and Economic Development Facts

State Gaming Revenue: $38 million

Payroll Economic Impact
  Casino/Hotel: $1.4 million annual
  Hotel/Waterpark: $850,500 annual
  Retail & Dining: $283,500 annual
  Golf Venue: $113,400 annual
  Mountain Coaster: $56,700 annual
  Amphitheater: $113,400 annual

Total Econ. Payroll 3X Multiplier: $250 million per year

Projected Year 1 Casino & Pinnacle Development Jobs: 3,300
  Casino/Hotel: 2,000
  Hotel/Waterpark: 800
  Retail/Dining: 200
  Golf Venue: 150
  Amphitheater: 100
  Mountain Coaster: 50

Projected Casino/Hotel Only Payroll: $ 100 million 

Total Acreage Involved: Cherokee Casino/Pinnacle Development:
  Pinnacle VA Development: 300 acres
  Pinnacle TN Development: 250 acres
  Cherokee Casino/Hotel: 50 acres
Total Acreage: 600 acres 

2019 Visitors to The Pinnacle Development: 5.2 million visitors

2019 Sales of Retailers at The Pinnacle, TN: $200 million

Annual Main Access Road Traffic (I-81/11W): 18.2 million vehicles

Projected Construction Jobs: 2,000

Cherokee/Pinnacle Development Reinvestment in The Community

The Cherokee/Pinnacle Development reinvestment will revolve around regional concerns including:

  • Mental Health
  • Opioids Abuse
  • Obesity
Three New Retailers Open Their Doors at The Pinnacle

BRISTOL, Tn. — The region’s largest retail complex is about to get larger as three new retailers will open their doors soon at The Pinnacle. The opening of a T-Mobile store as well as a Waffle House and New Best Buy brings the number of retailers at the Bristol, Tenn. location to 73.

“Our vision for an extraordinary retail complex continues to unfold with the addition of these three great brand name retailers,” explains developer Steve Johnson. “We set a new record for visitors to The Pinnacle in 2019, and we’re enthusiastic about the new year.”

The Pinnacle estimates 5,230,450 people visited the site in 2019.

The Pinnacle set a new holiday traffic record of 165,000 vehicles visiting stores, restaurants and other retailers during the holiday season. Overall, it is estimated that more than 5,230,450 people visited The Pinnacle during 2019, a 5.1 percent increase over the previous year.

With those visitors came the benefits of the sales tax dollars and employment to the region. While holiday sales are still being calculated by the State, it is estimated that $200,000,000 in total sales were generated at The Pinnacle in 2019. Sales tax dollars are shared by the State with the City of Bristol and Sullivan County to support schools, provide law enforcement and other key governmental functions.

“There are about 2,000 people who work at retailers at The Pinnacle,” Johnson explains. “They take their paychecks back home to support their families and their local economies—whether they live in Tennessee or Virginia.” According to Networks, a Sullivan County economic development organization, 2,000 workers at The Pinnacle would rank the retail complex as the fourth largest employer in the county behind Eastman, Ballad Health and Holston Medical Group. Among industries in Sullivan County, it would rank second, just behind Eastman and ahead of BAE Systems.

“The Pinnacle has been a blessing to the taxpayers of Sullivan County,” says Richard Venable, Sullivan County Mayor. “Without the sales tax dollars provided by the retailers at The Pinnacle, the tax burden on county residents would be much greater. The jobs the site creates offer support to families throughout the region. Their purchases support other local businesses and their contributions to churches and charities are likewise beneficial.”

Beth Rhinehart is President and CEO of the Bristol Chamber of Commerce. She says The Pinnacle offers additional benefits to Bristol. “Those who visit The Pinnacle don’t just shop there and leave. Many also explore our downtown attractions such as the Birthplace of Country Music Museum as well as local shops and restaurants.”

Among the new stores at The Pinnacle, Best Buy is the nation’s largest electronics retailer. A T-Mobile store and an iconic Waffle House will generate additional traffic to the shopping, dining and entertainment mecca for the five-state region.