RVA’s Casino Race: Cordish Companies discusses casino proposal, community concerns one-on-one with 8News


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Richmond casino race is dwindling down with only two contenders left in the race: Cordish Companies and Urban One.

Six hopefuls put in bids to build a resort-style casino in the city, but four have been axed from the running. In March, the city eliminated the Pamunkey Indian Tribe, Golden Nugget Hotels & Casinos,  and Wind Creek Hospitality. After much opposition from Richmond residents, Bally’s was eliminated in late April.

By the end of May, the Resort Casino Evaluation Panel is expected to make its recommendation to Mayor Levar Stoney on which operator and location is best fit for the city.

A big addition could be coming to Scott’s Addition. Live! Casino & Hotel Richmond would sit on the corner of Leigh Street and Arthur Ashe Boulevard, on the site of the Movieland Theater.

The project is offering the city a massive 4,000 seat performance venue, 18 restaurants, a spa, a 300-room hotel, and thousands of slots and table games. If selected, the casino is expected to be open at the end of 2023.  Construction will be operated by Davis Brothers Construction Company, one of the oldest construction companies in Virginia, they previously helped build the casino in Bristol.

Cordish Companies proposed the $600 million development, incorporating minority investment and local vendor contracts. Zed Smith, Chief Operating Officer of Cordish Companies, told 8News a big part of their project is community engagement and minority investment. Smith says they will focus on hiring local, creating workforce programs in areas of high unemployment, and partner with local colleges and universities. He also says specifically to the 2nd District, where the casino would be located, they’ve met with the principal at Carver and are working with an alternative school in the district.

“Richmond’s a great place, it’s a great city, there’s so much to offer,” said Smith.

Smith shared with 8News that when it comes to developing a project of this magnitude, location is key and Live! has close access to I-95, I-64, and the GRTC Pulse line. 

“We love the Scott’s Addition location because of all the other aspects of Scott’s Addition,” said Smith. “You can go to Scott’s Addition to a brewery, go see a show at the theater, we’re close to the museums and the science center.”

Hoping to expand on an already thriving area, this is not the company’s first rodeo. Smith says that’s what sets them apart from the competition and why they’re the best option.

“It’s track record and experience,” said Smith. “That’s the most important thing. Our competition has developed zero casinos and we’ve developed 6 over the last 15 years.”

Cordish Companies operates Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland, Live! Casino & Hotel Philadelphia, Live! Casino Pittsburgh, and the two Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos in Hollywood and Tampa, Florida.

The competition Smith is referring to is Urban One. The African American media company proposed a multi-million-dollar casino on Walmsley Boulevard and Commerce Road–near Philip Morris.

“As a visitor coming in for a convention, where would I want to stay. How do I experience the city of Richmond if I’m housed at an industrial site,” Smith questioned. “Just doesn’t make sense.”

But for some city residents, building a casino resort in the middle of a booming and busy corridor doesn’t make sense. Cordish Companies has faced some opposition for the location of their project.

During a recent protest on Arthur Ashe Boulevard, people told 8News they were not in favor of the casino in Scott’s Addition. One resident said, “It just does not make sense because of the road system” and another telling 8News, “it doesn’t belong in a neighborhood and this place is surrounded by neighborhoods”.

Despite some concerns, Cordish Companies says their casino will help the Scott’s Addition neighborhood flourish. They say that foot traffic will increase and bring in more business for local restaurants and breweries in the district.

Last month, the Greater Scott’s Addition Boulevard Association’s 21-person board voted not to oppose the project in a 10-9 vote. After an ‘intensive vetting process’ the vote was split with 52.9% not opposing. In a post the association wrote in part:

“To be clear, our vote is not indicative of full support of this project, and we have many outstanding concerns, some of which have been addressed by the City of Richmond and The Cordish Cos., others of which we’re still working through.”

Congestion, crime, and the fate of the Movieland theater are also raising concerns, but Smith tells 8News the company is listening and addressing them. On Tuesday, Smith shared that Movieland has been reincorporated into the project and will stay. He also says, to ease congestion and parking issues, the company has increased spaces in their free parking deck from 3,000 to 4,000.

Smith also addressed crime. He says he has been hearing concerns from the community that casinos increase crime rate, but he told 8News casinos have the opposite effect.

“There is no increase in crime, housing values continue to rise, traffic is not an issue,” said Smith. “It ebbs and flows. Nobody is going to be racing to a casino at 7 a.m. during rush hour.”

The last concern Smith discussed was the Cordish family ties to Donald Trump.

“The Cordish Companies, some of our partners have had a long history of public service within many administrations. David Cordish served on the Carter Administration and worked on urban development. Most recently Reed Cordish, his son, served within the Trump Administration working on one issue and that was prison reform–period,” said Smith. “Regardless of your political views, I think I would focus on the issue. What did Mr.Cordish work on? and that was prison reform and that passed overwhelmingly in the House and the Sente. I’m very proud of the service that Reed did.”

For those who say ‘no’ to any casino or might be on the fence, Smith is asking people to consider their community outreach, experience with operating casino resorts, and Richmond’s needs when deciding.

“Tax revenue and job creation that’s what this is about,” Smith told 8News. “This is one of those moments where you can generate the taxes that are necessary to improve schools, to build up affordable housing, to increase and develop infrastructure. This is an opportunity to move the needle for the city of Richmond.”

Smith says they are committing 200 million dollars of revenue to the city over the first 15 years of operation. 8News asked Smith if the casino would impact business at Rosie’s Gaming Emporium on Midlothian Turnpike.

“I do think that ultimately we will draw from Rosie’s, but we’re going to put together a much better product. Let the best man win.”

Richmond residents will vote on a referendum on the November ballot and decide if a casino is built in the city.

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