‘The city lost’: Richmond leaders react to axed Urban One casino project

Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A casino will not be constructed or coming to Richmond’s southside. City residents voted down the proposal on Tuesday night, leaving questions of how to move the city forward.

Some people are celebrating while others are heartbroken less than twenty-four hours after learning Urban One’s Casino+Resort was axed in a tight referendum vote. Despite the ups and downs, the race was very close, but ultimately the majority of residents said ‘no’ to a casino.

Urban One, a black-owned media company, decided to roll the dice last year in hopes of bringing a casino resort, the first of its kind, to the River City. But that won’t be happening after all; the votes are in and the people have spoken.

According to the Virginia Department of Elections, about 49% voted ‘yes’ and 51% of city residents voted ‘no’. As of Wednesday night all precincts but one have been reported, but it appears that won’t be enough to keep the One Casino project alive.

Reva Trammell, the 8th District City Council member, told 8News she is upset and her district’s dream of thriving is no longer a reality.

“The city has lost,” Trammell said. “We have lost a hell of a big investment.”

If approved One Casino would’ve been constructed in Trammell’s district on Commerce Road and Walmsley Boulevard. The big push for the project was economic advancement and revitalization in the city’s southside. The casino resort promised to bring much-needed jobs and competitive salaries to Richmond residents and minority residents. Trammell told 8News her residents feel let down.

“My citizens are devastated,” Trammell cried. “They’ve been calling me at two in the morning crying, saying ‘what happens now?’ ‘Can we get a job, can we?’ What do I tell them now, it’s not going to happen.”

Trammell said the hope she and many residents in her district had is now gone. She adds that it doesn’t make sense that people wouldn’t want to help those who’ve never experienced this type of opportunity–to make at least $50,000– and city residents pay nothing.

“There’s no hope now,” Trammell said. “This was the hope for everybody. Not only for the 8th district but what about the 25 million dollars that we were going to get today. How is the Mayor going to make up all of that? All these people that didn’t want this, do you mind taking the high taxes that we’re now going to have to impose upon you. Taxes are going to go up.”

The CEO of Urban One, Alfred Liggins, reacted to the results Wednesday morning in a statement:

“While extremely disappointed, our entire Urban One family, my mother and business partner Cathy Hughes, and I accept the will of city of Richmond residents. For the last two years, we have worked so hard to build a large and inclusive tent with our ONE Casino + Resort project. We had a lot of loyal supporters who worked tirelessly on behalf of this project and for whom we will be eternally grateful. We strongly believe this is a huge missed opportunity for Richmond residents to have a tourist attraction that would have provided the financial resources to improve schools and roads as well as enrich the lives of its citizens. Urban One has been a part of the fabric of Richmond for the last twenty-two years, and we will continue our tradition of serving the community.”

Casino referendums in four Virginia cities all passed last November and Richmond is now the only to be voted down. Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney has been a supporter to the casino, hoping to use the revenue to improve schools, infrastructure and put Richmond on the map.

“I am disappointed,” Stoney told 8News. “It shows that there’s still a divide in our community.”

A big question now swirling is, “Where does the city go from here?” especially after two failed projects in a row to economically advance Richmond. The first being Navy Hill and now One Casino + Resort.

When asked, Mayor Stoney said “The people have spoken. I am confident that we will find a project that we can all say yes to. I am all in when it comes to taking this city to the next level.”

After a lot of backlash, Richmond City Council voted to dump the Navy Hill project in February of 2020 in a 5-4 vote. The Navy Hill project would have built a new arena downtown, shopping centers, housing, and more.

Stoney said One Casino was at the top of the list to enhance economic development, but now it’s time to focus on the Diamond District Development and the City Center plan.

“There are some folks who think that I’m going to sit around and sulk all day long, all week long, or all month long– I’m not going to do that,” he said. “We’ve been here before and that why we are a resilient city.”

The City of Richmond is soliciting proposals from developers to re-imagine the “Diamond District,” a tract of land between Arthur Ashe Boulevard and Hermitage Road.

Under the City’s vision for the area, known as Richmond 300, the iconic home of the Richmond Flying Squirrels – and namesake of the district – would be demolished and replaced with a new “multi-purpose stadium.”

The City Center plan, which is not finalized, includes demolishing the Richmond Coliseum and building a large, open space the size of a football field for concerts or events, mixed-income housing, hotels and entertainment, a new fire station and a high school.

Stoney shut down talk of any last-ditch efforts to make the casino a reality in Richmond telling 8News, “It’s a done deal and over. The people have spoken.”

He added that it’s time to get back to work and develop projects that create good jobs for residents.

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