A Black-owned Washington media company is teaming with the owner of a potential rival to propose a $517 million casino resort and live music theater in South Richmond on property now owned by Philip Morris USA, one of the city’s biggest employers.
Urban One, owner of four radio stations targeting predominantly Black audiences in Richmond, will announce on Tuesday that it is partnering with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the owner of Colonial Downs Group and a growing chain of gaming emporiums in Virginia, to operate the casino as part of the 300,000-square-foot complex, according to a source close to the project.
Urban One plans to build the project on 100 acres owned by Altria Group Inc., the Henrico County-based owner of Philip Morris, at the Bells Road exit on Interstate 95, where Walmsley Boulevard meets Commerce Road just south of the tobacco company’s signature cigarette manufacturing complex.
The Urban One partnership with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment would take Colonial Downs out of the running for a potential license to build and operate a casino in Richmond. The city also expects to receive an application by its deadline Monday afternoon from the Pamunkey Indian Tribe for a $350 million South Richmond casino resort it proposed 13 months ago.
Urban One CEO Alfred Liggins confirmed that the company would be the majority investor in the project, following the path blazed by the late Don Barden, the first Black majority owner of a casino in the United States.
“Urban One is excited to be submitting a robust proposal to the City of Richmond to create an unparalleled gaming, dining, and live music destination that will attract tourists from all across the country and, if selected, be the only Black owned casino with diverse investors in the United States,” Liggins said in a statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
“We have been a part of the Richmond community since 1999, and everything we are proposing will have a local flavor and will ensure our facility uplifts the entire Richmond community,” Liggins said.
Urban One, operating as Radio One, owns more than 50 radio stations in over a dozen markets along the East Coast as far south as Texas and in Ohio and Indiana. Its FM stations in Richmond include WKJS-Kiss Richmond; ESPN Richmond; WCDX-iPower Richmond; and WPZZ-Praise Richmond.
Minority ownership has been a major issue in the casino legislation adopted by the General Assembly last year, as well as related bills pending in the legislature.
Urban One already has a $40 million, 7% stake in MGM National Harbor casino resort in Maryland, but Liggins told The Times-Dispatch last year that Urban One plans to submit a proposal to Richmond that “will include a focus on diversity and inclusion, and creating economic opportunities for Black and other minorities in central Virginia.”
Altria would not discuss details of the real estate transaction, but spokesman Steve Callahan said, “We’ve long supported economic development efforts in the Bells Road Corridor and believe that this predominantly industrialized area would benefit from further development. “
“An important part of this process is allowing the broader Richmond community to share its perspective,” Callahan said.
The project would include about 90,000 square feet of casino gaming space, a 150-room hotel, up to a dozen restaurants and lounges, and a 3,000-seat entertainment venue that could host up to 200 live music events a year, according to the source. The complex also would feature outdoor recreational amenities in an open area that would be bounded by Bells Road, Trenton Avenue and CSX railroad tracks that separate the industrial area from the Jefferson Davis Highway corridor.
Richmond is soliciting proposals from potential casino operators under a state law enacted last year that allows legal casino gambling in Virginia for the first time, but only in five cities after approval by voters in local referendums. Four cities — Norfolk, Portsmouth, Danville and Bristol — have approved casino projects. Richmond voters will get their chance in November.
The city announced last week that an evaluation panel that includes two City Council members and seven administration officials will review the proposals with support from an outside consulting firm and make recommendations to Mayor Levar Stoney.
The Richmond City Council will then vote on a recommended operator and location.
Pamunkey tribe’s plan
The Pamunkey tribe is seeking state licenses for casinos in Richmond and Norfolk, where it has an agreement to develop a resort along the Elizabeth River downtown. The tribe has preferential treatment under the state law because of its tribal gaming rights in a broad swath of its ancestral territory.
Early last year, the tribe proposed a casino resort on land it is purchasing along Commerce Road at Ingram Avenue, closer to downtown Richmond than the Urban One site and reached from I-95 at the Maury Street exit. The tribe also has an agreement to buy property at Jefferson Davis Highway and Walmsley for a workforce training center that it proposed to convert to community uses later.
But the proposal was not well-received by the predominantly Black neighborhoods around the proposed casino.
Jay Smith, a spokesman for the Pamunkey tribe, said Friday that it intends to submit a proposal for a new location Monday, but declined to say where.
The mayor’s press office said last week that it will release the names of the parties that submitted proposals and their proposed sites soon after the submission deadline Monday.
Colonial Downs had been the other likely competitor for a casino license in Richmond, but it is focusing on expanding its gaming presence in the lucrative Northern Virginia market.
The company owns a horse track and historical horse racing gaming parlor in New Kent County, as well as Rosie’s gaming emporiums in South Richmond, Hampton, Roanoke County and Dumfries, a town in Prince William County that could have a much larger gaming operation under the state casino law.
The law awards Colonial Downs additional gaming terminals — they look like slot machines but operate on historical horse racing results — as compensation for competition from casinos in up to five cities.
Rosie’s opened a modest emporium with 150 gaming terminals in Dumfries early this year, but Colonial Downs announced plans last week to build a $389 million gaming resort in the town that would feature as many as 1,650 machines, a 200-room hotel and eight restaurants.
The project would be built on 79 acres that includes a debris landfill along I-95 in Northern Virginia. Colonial Downs said the landfill would close 11 years early and become recreational space next to the gaming resort.
Peninsula Pacific, based in Los Angeles, owns and operates casinos in Sioux City, Iowa, and Waterloo, N.Y., in addition to the Colonial Downs horse track and Rosie’s gaming emporiums in Virginia.
Colonial Downs did not directly address Peninsula Pacific’s role in the Urban One proposal, but Chief Operating Officer Aaron Gomes said, “Colonial Downs Group is extremely proud of the success of Rosie’s Gaming Emporium and our partnership with the city of Richmond providing great jobs and significant tax revenues.”
Gomes added: “We look forward to maintaining that partnership as the city moves forward with any additional gaming initiatives.”
Staff writer C. Suarez Rojas contributed to this report.