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Sunday, June 20, 2021

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City Council Brief: ONE Casino + Report proposal, youth programming, gun violence

Mayor Levar Stoney and Director of Economic Development Leonard Sledge presented Urban One’s casino proposal, and community members urged city council to pass budget amendments concerning youth programming and gun violence Monday night. 

The ONE Casino + Resort plans were recommended to be the casino gaming operator by the Richmond Resort Casino Evaluation Panel last week. State legislators approved a bill last year legalizing casinos in five Virginia cities, including Richmond. 

“I am convinced Richmond has secured an operator, a location and an agreement that is the strongest among all the resort casino projects in the entire Commonwealth of Virginia,” Stoney said.

The casino would stand at the former Philip Morris Operations Center at 2001 Walmsley Blvd. in Southside, Sledge said. The target opening date is Dec. 21, 2023, according to the presentation. 

Sledge and Stoney described the project’s features, such as 250 luxury hotel rooms, a 3,000 seat event center for live entertainment, a 55-acre park and green space open to the public and production studios -- including a 15,000-foot sound stage to expand film and television production. 

The casino will also include local restaurants, with half of non-sit-down dining options being Richmond restaurants. Thirty-five percent of the $500,000 worth of art will be sourced locally, Sledge said.

The project is estimated to bring 1,500 jobs, and all employees will earn a minimum of $15 an hour, regardless of whether they are in tipped or non-tipped positions, Stoney said. There is also a construction and operation goal of 40% minority business enterprise and emerging small business participation, he said.

The agreement with Urban One includes a $25 million upfront payment to Richmond and is conservatively estimated to generate at least $171 million in the first five years, Sledge said. The money would help go toward school funding and poverty reduction, Stoney said.

Richmond has no obligation to provide any funding of the project and all funding required is the sole responsibility of the casino operator and developer, Sledge said. Additionally, there is no kind of tax relief for the project, Sledge said.

Urban One also pledged $16 million over the first 10 years of the project toward community organizations, Sledge said.

“[The pledge] does include $6 million for the Office of Community Wealth Building, Richmond Public Schools and also research into this, so that we can effectively partner with Virginia Union University, University of Richmond, and Virginia Commonwealth University, if they have a desire to, again, so that we can set aside some dollars to study the social and economic impacts of gaming,” Sledge said.

Because of concerns heard during community engagement periods about problem gaming and gambling, Urban One committed up to $200,000 in additional funding annually for mental health professionals and resources to prevent gaming and gambling problems, Sledge said.

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If city council approves the Urban One plans, residents will vote on the project in a referendum on Nov. 2. 

Councilwoman Reva Trammell, representing the Eighth District, said she was happy about the decision regarding ONE Casino + Resort because it was what her people wanted. The casino would be located in the Eighth District, if passed. 

Councilman Michael Jones, representing the Ninth District, called for robust investment in the Southside, including putting additional revenue from the project back into the community to improve the quality of life.

During the citizen comment period, members of the community urged support of budget amendments that provide youth programming to give kids development opportunities and protect them from violence. 

“I am coming before you to support Councilwoman [Ann-Frances] Lambert's budget amendment,” King Khalifani said. “Just the half a million dollars to fully staff rec and parks, and to do some work to quell the violence that we find in our communities. Half a million dollars is very low, think about this, 14 to 19 year olds in public housing don’t have any programs directed towards them. 

The deaths of a mother and her 3-month-old child in an April shooting along with other incidences of violence have redrawn attention to the issue of gun violence. 

Another issue addressed during the comment period was funding for the police and fire departments. Local police officers and firefighters have been calling on local officials to increase their wages, which they have said has led to the officers leaving the department in droves, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch

One firefighter called out Richmond leaders for not listening to firefighters, who he said were exhausted and facing increases in alcoholism, depression, PTSD and suicide.

“By not compensating us appropriately, as well as forcing us to work more, you're only adding stress to our lives,” he said.

Other firefighters and police officers called the issue a crisis and compared their low pay to other areas in central Virginia. 

The casino project will be discussed in district meetings leading up to the referendum, Sledge said.

Contact City & State editor Eileen Pomeroy at eileen.pomeroy@richmond.edu.

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