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Richmond casino proposals down to 2: City strikes Bally's Stratford Hills proposals from project shortlist

Richmond has removed the Bally’s project in the Stratford Hills area from the city’s shortlist of casino development proposals.

The city announced the decision Wednesday, after two weeks of public protests against the Rhode Island-based company’s plans to build a $650 million casino resort in the northeast quadrant of the Chippenham and Powhite parkways.

The city is evaluating two remaining proposals ahead of a planned referendum in November, when Richmond voters will decide whether to permit a casino resort in the city.

Leonard Sledge, director of the city’s economic development department, said a panel eliminated the Bally’s project “due to concerns about site access, environmental factors, and required approvals from non-city entities that may not be granted or extend the project timeline.”

“We appreciate Bally’s interest to develop a resort casino project in Richmond,” Sledge said in a news release. “We also appreciate the many Richmond citizens who have shared their thoughts throughout this process.”

Protesters cited Bally’s potential impact on traffic, the environment, public safety, and the graves of enslaved and freed Black people whose descendants still live nearby.

Signs of trouble bubbled up last week when the company asked the city to consider an alternative location. Bally’s officials said the proposal submitted to the city had identified property behind the Rosie’s Gaming Emporium on Midlothian Turnpike as a secondary site. The city refused to consider changing the location.

The company also sought to allay public concerns about traffic congestion on Forest Hill Avenue by changing the road configuration in its primary development plan, offering to build new parkway ramps with access to the casino resort.

“We are disappointed and surprised in the Evaluation Panel’s decision. We are the best operator to partner with the City on this endeavor and we provided the largest financial package with the most economic benefit to RVA residents and business owners,” said Bally’s President and CEO George Papanier. “We were deeply committed to this project, as well as to becoming a responsible neighbor and member of the Richmond community. Should the City reconsider its decision we would be pleased to reengage.”

Patricia Kinser, a resident of the Stratford Hills area who helped organize the opposition to the Bally’s project, said some area residents will continue to protest against a casino at any location in the city. She said some will also advocate for a permanent plan to preserve as natural green space the area where Bally’s proposed to build a casino.

“We’re thrilled with the news,” she said. “We’re in celebration mode and will be back into action very soon.”

Richmond requested proposals for a casino resort development in December, under a new state law allowing it and four other localities — Danville, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Bristol — to permit a single casino license if approved by local voters.

The city initially received six proposals earlier this year. It struck three of them a few weeks later.

The two remaining projects belong to the Washington media conglomerate Urban One and The Cordish Companies, which operates several casinos across the country under its Live! brand.

Urban One, which operates four radio stations in the Richmond area, has proposed building a casino resort off Commerce Road on land currently owned by Philip Morris USA. The company is partnering on the project with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based owner of the Colonial Downs racetrack and Rosie’s gaming emporiums.

The Urban One development proposal includes plans for a 100,000-square-foot casino, a 20-acre park, 12 restaurants, a theater venue, television and radio studios, and a 250-room hotel.

The Cordish project aims to turn the 17-acre Movieland property into a casino resort featuring 18 restaurants, a 300-room hotel, community festival lawn, wellness center, resort pool and music hall. The company recently said it is still exploring options to incorporate a movie theater in its development plans.

Information on the remaining casino proposals and the evaluation process can be found at www.rva.gov/economic-development/resort-casino.


ABOVE: Kathleen Villanueva (left) and Diana Rose Penaloza took advantage of Tuesday’s sunshine to visit Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden in Henrico County. During a break among the tulips, they inspected some photos they’d taken.LEFT: A bee visited a flower at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden. On Thursday, expect partly sunny skies and a high of 60.A spring pause in the garden


A bee flies to a flower at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden Tuesday, April 20, 2021.


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AP
Garland announces sweeping police probe after Floyd verdict

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department is opening a sweeping investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis after a former officer was convicted in the killing of George Floyd there, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced Wednesday.

The decision comes a day after the former officer, Derek Chauvin, was found guilty of murder and manslaughter in Floyd’s death last May, a verdict that set off a wave of relief across the country. Floyd’s death had led to months of mass protests against policing and the treatment of Black people in the United States.

The Justice Department was already investigating whether Chauvin and the other officers involved in Floyd’s death violated his civil rights.

“Yesterday’s verdict in the state criminal trial does not address potentially systemic policing issues in Minneapolis,” Garland said.

The new investigation is known as a “pattern or practice” — examining whether there is a pattern or practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing — and will be a more sweeping review of the entire police department. It may result in major changes to policing in the Minnesota city.

It will examine the use of force by police officers, including force used during protests, and whether the department engages in discriminatory practices. It will also look into the department’s handling of misconduct allegations and its treatment of people with behavioral health issues and will assess the department’s current systems of accountability, Garland said.

The Minneapolis police said in a statement that the chief, Medaria Arradondo “welcomes this investigation” and will fully cooperate with federal prosecutors. Arradondo “understands that the intent of this inquiry is to reveal any deficiencies or unwanted conduct within the department and provide adequate resources and direction to correct them,” the statement said.

A senior Justice Department official said prosecutors chose to announce the investigation a day after the verdict because they did not want to do anything to interfere with Chauvin’s trial. The official would not discuss details of the investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Three other ex-Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s death will be tried together beginning Aug. 23. The official said their trial is far enough off that officials believed it was still appropriate to make the announcement Wednesday, even though the defendants are awaiting trial on state charges.

It’s unclear whether the years under investigation will begin when Floyd died or before. Garland said a public report would be issued if the department finds a pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing. The government also could bring a lawsuit against the police department, which in the past have typically ended in settlement agreements or consent decrees to force changes.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said city officials “welcome the investigation as an opportunity to continue working toward deep change and accountability in the Minneapolis Police Department.”

The City Council also issued a statement supporting the investigation, saying its work had been constrained by local laws and that it welcomes “new tools to pursue transformational, structural changes to how the City provides for public safety.”

The Justice Department official said attorneys from the department’s civil rights division are in Minneapolis, working with the U.S. attorney’s office and speaking with community groups and others.

Floyd, 46, was arrested on suspicion of passing a counterfeit $20 bill for a pack of cigarettes at a corner market. He panicked, pleaded that he was claustrophobic and struggled with police when they tried to put him in a squad car. They put him on the ground instead.

The centerpiece of the case was bystander video of Floyd, handcuffed behind his back, gasping repeatedly, “I can’t breathe,” and onlookers yelling at Chauvin to stop as the officer pressed his knee on or close to Floyd’s neck for what authorities say was about 9 1/2 minutes, including several minutes after Floyd’s breathing had stopped and he had no pulse.

Floyd’s death May 25 became a flashpoint in the national conversation about the deaths of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement and sparked worldwide protests.

At trial, Chauvin’s defense attorney persistently suggested Chauvin’s knee wasn’t on Floyd’s neck for as long as prosecutors argued, suggesting instead it was across Floyd’s back, shoulder blades and arm.

The Justice Department had previously considered opening a pattern or practice investigation into the police department soon after Floyd’s death, but then-Attorney General Bill Barr was hesitant to do so at the time, fearing that it could cause further divisions in law enforcement amid widespread protests and civil unrest, three people familiar with the matter told the AP.

Garland said the challenges being faced “are deeply woven into our history.”

“They did not arise today or last year,” Garland said. “Building trust between community and law enforcement will take time and effort by all of us, but we undertake this task with determination and urgency knowing that change cannot wait.”


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Business
WATCH NOW: Amazon to put new robotics fulfillment center near Richmond Raceway in Henrico, creating 1,000 new jobs

Amazon plans to build a massive distribution center near the Richmond Raceway in Henrico County that will use robotic technology to help pick and sort customer orders.

The online retail giant plans to build the 650,000-square-foot robotics fulfillment center on 119 acres just north of the raceway complex, creating 1,000 jobs, Gov. Ralph Northam’s office announced Wednesday.

The multistory center should be operational by late 2022. Construction on the center has started.

“This new robotics fulfillment center in Henrico County is the latest milestone in the growing partnership between Amazon and Virginia, and reinforces our standing as both a technology hub and a leader in supply chain management,” Northam said in a statement.

Amazon’s new center will be on land at 5901 Richmond Henrico Turnpike that Richmond International Raceway Inc. sold late last month to Dallas-based Hillwood Partners’ Raceway Commerce Center Project LLC for $7.73 million, the county’s online property records show.

The vacant property is north of the raceway complex along Carolina Avenue. The raceway complex had once used the property for overflow parking.

Amazon operates more than 50 robotics fulfillment centers worldwide.

The company will have robotic vehicles working alongside the 1,000 employees at the Henrico center, similar to the company’s robotics fulfillment center under construction in Suffolk where it plans to create 1,000 jobs.

That Suffolk center, announced in March 2020, will have a footprint of 822,833 square feet and will be 4½ stories tall for a total of 3.8 million square feet of space, according to the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance. That warehouse and a processing cross-dock center in Chesapeake are expected to open this year, the governor’s office said.

At Amazon’s robotics fulfillment centers, robotic drive units navigate around a warehouse by following a series of computerized stickers on the floor to help employees with picking, packing and shipping customer orders.

The orders are placed in bins, which are placed on a pod that looks like stackable shelving units. Rather than using traditional forklifts, the e-commerce giant uses these orange-colored robotic drive units to slide underneath a pod, lift it off the ground and then carry the pod around the center.

“At Amazon, we are investing in research and development that provides assisted and collaborative technology to extend the human reach and capability in a manner that will make tasks easier, allowing our associates to turn their abilities to more sophisticated tasks where they can add the most value,” company spokesperson Courtney Johnson said.

***

Amazon entered the Richmond area in late 2012 by opening two distribution centers, each with 1.2 million square feet of space — in the Meadowville Technology Park in Chesterfield County and another in Dinwiddie County.

Since then, Amazon has added other operations in the Richmond region and around Virginia.

In South Richmond, it operates a fulfillment and last-mile delivery center on Commerce Road just south of the Bells Road exit off Interstate 95 near the Richmond Marine Terminal. In Hanover County, Amazon leases a 328,000-square-foot building on Lakeridge Parkway in the Enterchange at Northlake business park to serve as a package-sorting facility.

The company operates 10 fulfillment and sortation centers in Virginia and three Prime Now hub distribution centers — one each in Richmond, Springfield and Virginia Beach.

Amazon employs more than 27,000 full- and part-time workers in Virginia.

The Virginia Economic Development Partnership worked with the Henrico Economic Development Authority, the Port of Virginia and the Greater Richmond Partnership to secure the project for the state. Amazon is eligible to receive benefits from the Port of Virginia Economic and Infrastructure Development Zone Grant Program as well as the Virginia Enterprise Zone Program.

“The site is an ideal location for a major e-commerce operation, and we thank the Richmond Raceway team for connecting us to Amazon and Hillwood Partners, said Henrico Supervisor Frank Thornton, who represents the Fairfield District.

***

Richmond Raceway has been on a selling spree this past month.

It sold a 30-acre property at 4300 Carolina Ave. in the Richmond Distribution Center next to the raceway complex for $7.8 million this month.

Henrico-based Lingerfelt CommonWealth Partners LLC acquired the 223,479-square-foot industrial warehouse with plans for it to undergo a multimillion-dollar renovation starting this month.

Before that sale and the sale of the 119 acres to Hillwood Partners last month, Richmond Raceway had more than 1,100 acres.

In March 2020, NASCAR announced an arrangement with Hillwood Partners to improve the value of NASCAR’s vast real estate portfolio through a repositioning or redevelopment of surplus land at its existing facilities across the U.S., including Richmond Raceway.

Hillwood Partners, which worked with Richmond Raceway to get the property at 5901 Richmond Henrico Turnpike rezoned last year, is developing the Amazon site.

Richmond Raceway also has another 123 acres on the other side of Richmond Henrico Turnpike that is undeveloped.


State-and-regional
UVA Health will wipe out tens of thousands of lawsuits against patients

The University of Virginia Health System, which for years has sued thousands of patients annually for unpaid bills, said this week that it will cancel a massive backlog of court judgments and liens resulting from those lawsuits dating to the 1990s.

Combined with reforms UVA announced in 2019, Monday’s move is likely to benefit tens of thousands of families and make UVA Health’s collections policies much more generous than those of many hospital systems, said scholars who study health care finance. The decision to wipe out liens that can drain home equity years after a hospital visit is extremely rare, they said.

UVA had been suing patients for decades, many with unpaid bills in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, KHN reported in 2019. Once the health system won cases in court, it could seize wages and the value of patient homes when they were sold. UVA limited its collections lawsuits after KHN’s investigation.

“This is very significant and a much-needed and overdue step,” said Erin Fuse Brown, a law professor at Georgia State University who studies hospital billing. “I don’t know if I’ve heard of that [lien abolition] happening anywhere else.”

But most families who have already surrendered money to UVA as a result of lawsuits or liens will not get their money back.

UVA will release all liens and judgments filed against all households making less than 400% of federal poverty guidelines, or $106,000 for a family of four, which should account for most of them, said Douglas Lischke, the system’s chief financial officer.

“This is a proud moment for us,” he said in an interview. “We want our financial care to be as good as our clinical care.”

Doris Hutchinson was surprised two years ago to find a UVA lien related to a relative’s bill on her mother’s Charlottesville home. The medical system demanded $39,000 from the family before the house could be sold. The money was placed in escrow.

Three weeks ago, she learned the judgment would be canceled and the money released.

“I’ll be excited about that,” said Hutchinson, who said she needs the funds to help pay for her grandchildren’s college education and replace income from her husband, who died two years ago. “I’m also happy for everybody else” who gets UVA bill relief, she said.

UVA will also stop blocking enrollment for university students with outstanding balances at the health system, university spokesperson Brian Coy said Monday. Keeping students from completing their education because they owed hospital bills was another practice revealed by KHN.

KHN reported in 2019 that UVA Health had sued patients 36,000 times over six years for more than $100 million, often for amounts far higher than what an insurer would have paid for their care. In response to the articles, the system suspended lawsuits against patients and wage garnishments, increased discounts for the uninsured and broadened financial assistance, including for cases dating to 2017.

The system named an advisory council of UVA officials and community leaders to consider permanent changes. The council delivered recommendations in October.

Like most hospitals, UVA wasn’t using property liens to foreclose on patients’ homes. But it was seizing money owed — plus 6% interest — from home equity when home sales went to settlement.

In response to KHN’s investigation, UVA said in 2019 that it would improve financial assistance but continue to use the courts to recover money owed from families making more than 400% of the poverty threshold.

While unusual, UVA’s decision to substantially reduce lawsuits and erase liens stops short of moves recently made by VCU Health. VCU pledged to stop suing all patients and, in a process taking more than a year in courthouses across Virginia, is abolishing all old judgments and liens regardless of a family’s income.

“This seems like many steps in the right direction” for UVA, said Jenifer Bosco, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center who specializes in health care. “There is always more that could be done. But providing assistance to families with income of up to 400% of the poverty level is a great step.”

The number of outstanding UVA Health judgments is unknown. For its part, VCU eventually found about 80,000 statewide. In Virginia, liens expire after 20 years, but UVA was taking the trouble to renew claims dating to the 1990s, KHN found.

Canceling them should take more than a year, Lischke said. UVA’s changes to billing and collections, including improvements to financial assistance announced in late 2019, will cost the system about $12 million a year, he said.

UVA’s move is far more beneficial to its patients and its region than other so-called community benefits that many nonprofit hospitals offer to justify their tax-exempt status, said Ge Bai, associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Instead of testing services or medical education that are often hospital marketing campaigns in disguise, “this action is a concrete effort to relieve the financial burden of the community,” she said. “It also improves mental health. It relieves the stress.”


Professional
FanDuel sprints out to early lead in Virginia sports betting; DraftKings second, with MGM and Caesars lagging behind

FanDuel has jumped out to a massive lead in the frenzied battle for sports gambling customers in Virginia.

The operator has 53% of the market share in the state, according to numbers released Wednesday by the Virginia Lottery.

The preliminary data, which covered the period from January to the end of March, showed DraftKings in second place, with 24% of the state’s market share.

MGM was third with 14%. Caesars, which operates in the state under the William Hill brand, had 8% of the market, and BetRivers and Wynn had 1% or less of the market.

Three other companies have been authorized to take bets in the state but have not yet gone live — Bally’s, Golden Nugget and Penn National, which operates under the Barstool Sports name.

The total amount wagered in the state during the first three months of the year was $628 million.

FanDuel was given a jump-start of about 2½ days on other operators at launch thanks to its partnership with the Washington Football Team. The decision was an enticement to the team as it contemplates where to build a new stadium.

The lottery’s data was the most detailed to date, and showed that basketball was the most popular sport by far for bettors, with half of all wagers, about $315 million worth, being placed on pro and college games.

Football was a small slice of the market, but most operators were live only in time for the Super Bowl, and it is expected that this fall will bring a windfall when the NFL and college seasons begin.

Soccer and tennis betting both attracted more than $40 million in wagers, or about 7% of the overall market each.

The least bet-on sport was professional darts, which garnered $9,508 in wagers during the period.

The lottery said that betting on the Olympics will be allowed this summer. It was initially banned, but new legislation has overturned that prohibition.


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