RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Richmond held a virtual public meeting Tuesday night for residents to learn more about the ONE Casino + Resort proposal.
During this meeting, Richmonders were given the same presentation about the project the City Council received on Monday and got the chance to ask questions about it.
Leondard Sledge, Director of Economic Development, said in 2020 the Virginia General Assembly passed the “Virginia Casino Act” which would allow Richmond to build one. The act also wrote in direct revenues for the localities from the casinos, in addition to the normal statutory taxes businesses face in Richmond, such as real-estate and meals taxes.
The act states the localities will also not provide any funding for the project.
The casino said it will also give a one-time $25 million payment and the owner’s manager will donate $150,000 over the next five years to the Richmond Public Schools Education Fund.
Sledge said the location of the casino will be in the former Phillip Morris Operations Center, and the property has been for sale since 2009.
The casino and resort will have 250 hotel rooms, amenities such as pools and spas, television and film production, event room spaces and parking. The interior of the $562.5 million casino will be about 1.01 million square feet. There will also be a 55-acre green space and public park that will be developed and maintained by the casino.
In order to help local businesses, points earned at the casino can be used at Richmond establishments.
“This opportunity will not cost Richmond businesses anything to participate,” he said.
In addition, Sledge said the casino will invest $500,000 in art, 35% of which will be spent on Richmond artists, and a rotating gallery where local artists can display their work.
Wages for those who work for the casino will create 1,300 new jobs, with a minimum income of $15 an hour for tipped and non-tipped employees.
At Monday’s meeting with the City Council, Sledge asked the city council to make their decision about whether or not to move the proposal forward at their meeting on June 14.
If approved, voters will still have to give the final green light on a referendum in November, and if Richmonders vote to approve the casino, it would have a targeted opening day of Dec. 31, 2023.
One citizen asked how the casino would affect the city’s downtown convention center.
Alfred Liggins, Urban One’s Chief Executive Officer, said the casino’s center would be a much smaller footprint than the city’s. He said it would be more of a gathering space for small social groups, like sororities and fraternities, rather than larger events.
Sledge added that it’s not uncommon for hotels to have meeting space offered.
Someone asked what would be done to make sure minority-owned contractors would be prioritized in this process. Liggins said the General Assembly made hiring minority-owned businesses a requirement for the project and Urban ONE is working with a local firm to follow through.
A person asked how other locations run by Peninsula Pacific Entertainment — the company that will run the casino — would possibly impact the city.
Liggins explained that the agreement said Peninsula Pacific Entertainment will not regulate how they operate any of their other satellite locations, such as Rosie’s and the race track in Colonial Downs. However, it does say if a large similar facility opens in Dumfries or Prince William County, and the city sees a decrease in value, the city will get a payment.
Liggins added this will run very differently than Peninsula Pacific’s other operations, such that it will be a large-scale casino and will attract a variety of visitors for different reasons.
Another person asked if there any plans to open a smaller venue before the opening of the full hotel. Liggins said they are large enough they could do that and had originally considered it. However, the city is most concerned with getting the best casino open as fast as possible so they moved away from the idea of a temporary facility into a single phase of construction.
Liggins added this is a big incentive for the casino to have the project move as fast as possible because the only way Urban one and Peninsula Pacific will make money is for the facility to open.
Someone asked if local entertainers would be able to perform at the new venue.
Liggins said local promoters will have access to the facility. He said Live Nation is partnered with a lot of major acts, such as Jay Z and Madona, but they will only fill a portion of the casino’s 200 nights of entertainment. He said there will be plenty of opportunities for other performers to fill.
Someone asked how local businesses could reach out to partner with the casino. Liggins said they will be holding fairs for vendors and partnering. However, One does not currently want to “put the cart before the horse,” but they will be sure to reach out when that opportunity is available.
A resident raised the concern that they saw the way Rosie’s Gaming Emporium had impacted the southside negatively and increased crime in the area. They wanted to know what the ONE Casino + Resort would do to keep that from happening.
Sledge said the data doesn’t suggest upticks in an abnormal activity like crime. Liggins added they would be bringing surveillance cameras, thousands of people who could witness any crime and their own private security force. Since there is a lot of money flowing through the facility, it’s in the casino’s best interest to make sure the area is secure for all.
“I think this is going to be a net positive on a safety standpoint,” Liggins said.
One of the last questions answered was what will happen if voters vote “no?”
Sledge said Richmond would lose the opportunity for 1,300 new jobs to the city and $170 million a year for the next five years. He said there is no guarantee if Richmond votes no in November, that “we will get a second bite at the apple.”