irginia's South Richmond civic association on Tuesday endorsed the bid for an Urban One casino. The move comes amid local opposition to The Cordish Companies' proposed Live! casino in a different location.
In a news conference Tuesday in South Richmond, Charles Willis, president of the newly renamed Richmond Highway Neighborhood Civic Association, called on his neighbors and the Richmond community to contact city leaders to support the Urban One project in an industrial area off Commerce Road, as reported by Richmond Times-Dispatch. The civic association represents a few thousand residents and businesses in the corridor from Terminal Avenue to Walmsley Boulevard.
Public opinion and community support are among the criteria Richmond city officials are evaluating as they work to form a recommendation on which casino project should go forward to a citywide referendum this November. Richmond officials say public sentiment alone won’t determine which project they will recommend, but local residents and community leaders who live near the project sites are hoping their public statements and demonstrations will persuade officials to advance or reject one of the development bids.
“We have seen firsthand how this project will make this part of Richmond stronger with good jobs and the kind of economic development we have been waiting for for a long time,” Willis said. “This is how we grow our part of the city and bring tourism and new business opportunities to South Richmond.”
Washington-based media company Urban One is partnering with Peninsula Pacific Entertainment, owner of the Colonial Downs racetrack and Rosie’s Gaming Emporiums, to build a casino resort off Commerce Road on land currently owned by Philip Morris USA. It is competing with The Cordish Companies, a Maryland-based operation that runs several casinos under the Live! brand.
Cordish is seeking to develop a casino resort at the 17-acre Movieland property on Arthur Ashe Boulevard. Nearly a dozen neighborhood groups in the Fan District and North Side are opposing the project, but the Scott’s Addition Boulevard Association board of directors last week decided not to fight against the project in a narrow 10-9 vote.
Area residents say they hope to keep the pressure on the developer after the city recently struck down another project in Stratford Hills that failed to win support from the surrounding community. More than 50 people on Monday protested near the Boulevard site holding up colorful “No Casino” signs and rattling cowbells and other noisemakers during the evening rush hour.
Trevor Dickerson, president of the Scott’s Addition Boulevard Association, said the board’s vote is not an endorsement of the project, but takes a “defensive position” of non-opposition. He said the association still has many concerns about the project, such as traffic congestion and the competition it will create for local businesses in the area. But association leaders felt it would be better to work with the developer to leverage more support for the growing entertainment district in case the city selects the project for a public referendum in November.
Dickerson said the company has committed to several requests from the association, including support for the development of a multi-use trail and a $100,000 annual payment to help pay for streetlights, trees and other improvements in the Scott’s Addition area. Dickerson said he thinks the Cordish project will likely see the most opposition in the next few weeks as a city evaluation panel is expected to recommend a project and site as one decision next month.
Cari Furman, a Cordish spokesperson, said the company is still working with local residents and businesses on refining the project to make it the most desirable. “We mean what we say when we talk about serving as a true partner to the community,” Furman said. “Our project is the one that brings the highest economic value and community benefits to the City and local residents, and for that reason, we expect that it will ultimately get the greatest support.”
Jonathan Marcus, chairman of RVA Coalition of Civic Associations, said 11 neighborhood groups, including the Fan District Association, Fan Area Business Association, Ginter Park Resident Association and Sherwood Park Civic Association, have issued statements against the Cordish project as of Tuesday afternoon. Marcus said the idea of a casino is “antithetical” to the small business culture that helped transform industrial Scott’s Addition to a popular entertainment district with its breweries, restaurants and recreation venues.
Richmond City Council will vote in June whether the city will hold a public referendum on a preferred casino operator and project site this November.
Prior to Monday’s protest on the Boulevard, residents in the Stratford Hills area held similar demonstrations for several weeks against the proposed Bally’s casino resort in the northeast quadrant of the Chippenham and Powhite parkways. City officials last week announced that it was eliminating the proposal from the evaluation process, citing concerns raised by community members and the approvals the project might need from state and federal agencies based for its project site.
Under a new state law allowing casino gambling in five cities, Richmond originally received six casino development proposals earlier this year after requesting project bids in December. State lawmakers in 2019 and 2020 passed legislation allowing Richmond, Bristol, Norfolk, Portsmouth and Danville to permit one casino operator in their respective jurisdictions if approved by the Virginia Lottery Board and a majority of local voters.
Residents in the other four cities last year overwhelmingly approved plans for a casino in their communities. Danville was the only locality to open the process to a competitive bid.