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'Tell them to build it over there': Opposition to casino projects mounting as Richmond prepares for negotiations
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'Tell them to build it over there': Opposition to casino projects mounting as Richmond prepares for negotiations

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Gov. Northam last year signed a law allowing for sports betting operations and the construction of a casino in five Virginia cities.

Mounting tension over three competing casino proposals for Richmond boiled over Monday ahead of three community meetings scheduled on the projects this week.

The flashpoint came when an anonymous flyer opposing a site adjacent to Scott’s Addition appeared on social media, drawing a swift rebuke from critics who said the language implied the casino should be built by neighborhoods largely home to Black and Latino people.

“More traffic. Higher crime. Lower quality of life for us,” the flyer reads. “Tell them to build it over there.”

It was unclear where the flyers came from and where exactly it suggested that a casino should be built.

While the message echoed concerns that have also been raised about the other two sites, several local leaders said it appeared to imply that the casino should be located where Black-owned media conglomerate Urban One is planning to build near a marginalized community that could still be subject to those same problems.

Amy Wentz, a community activist and former City Council candidate in the 8th district, shared the image Monday, saying she found the flyers hurtful.

“We’re building a narrative of Richmond as a progressive city, moving past the painful history of the Confederacy, taking down monuments and building equity in our policies. Everyone is on this wave of thinking; and then here we go with this,” she said in an interview. “People don’t value our neighborhoods equally.”

The remaining projects are proposed in three of the city’s nine council districts: The 2nd District on Richmond’s North Side and two in South Richmond — one in the 4th District and one in the 8th District.

The 8th District is almost 70% Black and 15% Hispanic, according to the most recent data shared on the Richmond government website. The same data indicate that the 2nd District is nearly 70%; the 4th District is 65% white and nearly 29% Black.

Virginia lawmakers last year legalized casino gambling by allowing voters in five cities to decide whether to permit it in their respective localities. In December, Richmond issued a request for development proposals without specifying a location.

The city last week eliminated three of the six proposals last month, saying they did not provide enough information about the financing or location for their project.

The remaining projects are:

  • A $517 million project by Urban One, a Washington media company with radio stations in Richmond, and Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, the Los Angeles-based owner of Colonial Downs racetrack and Rosie’s gaming emporiums. Their resort would be on property now owned by Philip Morris USA at Commerce Road and Walmsley Boulevard. Urban One would be the majority investor in what it says would be the only majority Black-owned casino in the country. In Richmond’s 8th District.
  • A $600 million casino resort proposed on the 17-acre Movieland property by The Cordish Companies, a Maryland developer that already operates casinos under the Live! brand in Baltimore; Philadelphia; Pittsburgh; and Tampa and Hollywood, Fla. One of its investors is former NFL star defensive lineman Bruce Smith, a Virginia Beach businessman. In the 2nd District.
  • A $650 million investment by Bally’s Corp. on a 61-acre property at the northeast quadrant of the Powhite and Chippenham parkways in South Richmond. The company operates 11 casinos across seven states. The project’s investors also include two former NFL greats — linebacker Willie Lanier and defensive back Darrell Green. In the 4th District.

The development last week led to a series of statements from local political leaders and a spike in interest from residents and community groups.

Richmond Council members Katherine Jordan, 2nd District, and Kristen Larson, 4th District, who represent the areas around the Cordish and Bally’s proposals, respectively, made statements opposing the projects in their respective districts.

Sources familiar with the project said 8th District Councilwoman Reva Trammell supports the Urban One proposal, but has not issued any statements about it and could not be reached for comment Monday.

Residents near the Bally’s site close to the Forest Hill community and those near the proposed Cordish site on Arthur Ashe Boulevard have also been organizing and collecting input from their neighbors in the last week.

Randee Humphrey, who lives in the Ginter Park neighborhood, said she and several of her neighbors recently started circulating a survey to gauge how people in the North Side neighborhood feel about the project at the Movieland site.

With nearly 1,000 respondents so far, she said about 85% said they are opposed to the project there.

Humphrey said she was unsure of where the flyers that circulated on social media came from, but disagreed with the notion that it should be built somewhere else if one community opposes it.

“I would have advised against that,” she said of the flyer and its wording. “This process ... it’s sort of been set up for us to be against each other. It’s unfortunate.”

Del. Betsy Carr, D-Richmond, last week also issued a statement opposing the Bally’s project, citing concerns her constituents have raised about traffic congestion. She also said she hoped the city would give further consideration to the Urban One proposal, calling it an opportunity for “economic justice.”

Councilman Mike Jones, who is running against Carr for the Democratic nomination in the 69th House district, criticized her for advocating for the Urban One site.

In an interview Friday, Jones said he isn’t opposed to the Urban One project or the prospect of a casino in the city, but felt that Carr was putting the concerns of one constituency over the other.

“It’s not about a casino. It’s about white privilege and NIMBY-ism. It’s being made manifest in this casino deal,” he said. “We all know what this is about. We’ve seen this playbook before: ‘Don’t put it in our neighborhood, put it in their neighborhood.’”

Carr on Monday dismissed Jones’ response as a political attack and stood by her comments, noting the site’s industrial setting and the jobs it would create. “I listen to my constituents,” she said in an email. “What is said in much of South Richmond is jobs are needed ... good paying, easy to reach jobs that will help support families.”

Wentz said nearly everyone in the area she’s spoke with is either ambivalent or supportive of the project, but hope that it could lead to ancillary development, such as new sidewalks and improvements to the area stormwater drainage system.

Both she and Jones also said they were worried that too many public statements from elected officials opposing or favoring one project over the other could hamstring the city’s ability to negotiate for additional community benefits.

In response to questions about the statements from council members, city spokesman Jim Nolan said they are welcome to comment on it publicly, but advised caution.

“We simply request that all city officials involved in the process be mindful of the impact their comments can have on the city’s negotiating position so we can negotiate the best resort casino project possible to put before voters in November,” he said.

The city will hold meetings for each of the project proposals Tuesday through Thursday at 6 p.m. More information and feedback forms can be found online at rva.gov/economic-development/resort-casino.

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