double | Richmond Free Press

If at first you do not succeed, …

That’s the city council’s mantra when it comes to a $565 million casino project on the South Side.

Just three months after voters narrowly rejected the planned gambling mecca which was to generate a source of jobs and new tax revenue, the council wants an overhaul.

In a landslide 8-1 vote on Monday, city council members ignored dissent and approved giving Richmond voters a second chance to allow private gambling development that could bring in an average of $50 million a year in new money for the coffers of the city.

The supermajority included representatives from the white-majority 1st, 3rd, 4th, and 5th wards whose voters had rejected the casino as well as representatives from the black-majority 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th wards whose voters supported the proposal. Second District Councilwoman Katherine Jordan, whose predominantly white district also overwhelmingly rejected the casino, was the lone dissenter.

The vote took place the same evening the council also approved Mayor Levar M. Stoney’s proposal to turn over ownership and decision-making of 13 public Confederate statues and their pedestals to the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, based in Richmond.

On the casino front, council action allows the Stoney administration to ask the Richmond Circuit Court to place on the November ballot the same measure that failed by about 1,500 votes.

Yet, board voting can be an exercise in futility if the General Assembly intervenes.

Richmond, despite already having a thriving gambling scene that includes cash poker games as well as a variety of slot machine options, was the only one of the five cities where voters turned down a casino. Voters in Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth and Norfolk approved the casino development in 2020 votes.

Seeking to avoid another vote in Richmond, legislation that would first give Petersburg the option of having a casino and prevent Richmond from holding a second referendum for five years is currently making its way through House and Senate committees.

Richmond State Sen. Joseph D. Morrissey, a Democrat who also represents Petersburg, is spearheading a bill while Republican Delegate Kim Taylor, who also represents Cockade City, is proposing the version from the room.

The council’s casino measures, which 8th District Councilman Reva M. Trammell introduced, would once again allow city-selected casino developer Urban One, a Maryland-based black media company, to go from the front.

As planned, the project, which was to be built on 100 acres adjacent to Interstate 95’s Bells Road interchange, was to include a large casino, a 50-acre park, a 250-room hotel, a major sound stage for the television, film and video production and several restaurants.

The project, which required no city contribution or subsidy, was expected to generate 3,000 construction jobs, 1,500 full-time and part-time on-site jobs, $1.5 million in annual charitable contributions, and over $500 million in new tax revenue. to the city in the first 10 years.

In an effort to make the casino more palatable, the Stoney administration introduced separate legislation on how the casino’s planned revenue stream would be used.

The new proposal, which 3rd District Councilwoman Ann-Frances Lambert imposed as a condition for supporting a second vote, calls for using a fraction of the money to reduce the homeownership rate by at least 2 cents and using the remains to provide a new stream of revenue to pay for new school buildings and meet other city building and infrastructure needs.

Overall, council members agreed that the deal that would cost the city nothing was not too good to pass up.

During the public comment period before the vote, Allan-Charles Chipman, who ran unsuccessfully for the 6th district seat in 2020, was among 10 people who criticized the second referendum, decrying it as an act of “voter suppression”.

“Passing this legislation would defy the expressed will of the people of Richmond,” said Mr Chipman, who has campaigned against the casino as a rip-off for low-income residents.

Third District resident Debbie Rowe said the council gave people a chance to decide the fate of the casino. “Well, we did,” she said, “and a majority of voters in the city said no.”

David Dominique of the 7th arrondissement called casino revenue a “regressive tax” for low-income residents. He cited national studies showing that casinos make 80% of their money from workers’ losses on slot machines and create a significant increase in gambling addiction that imposes significant costs on individuals, families and the community at large. wider.

Ten other people expressed their support for a new vote, including Mark Hourigan, who runs a construction company based in Richmond. “There is simply no other economic development agreement that offers these kinds of benefits at virtually no cost or downside risk to the city.”

Despite the potential downside, council members argued that too many people voted against the proposed casino with the mistaken belief that taxpayers’ money would be used to support development.

“This is one of the rare occasions when there is an economic development project before this city with zero investment from the city and 100% return to the city and benefits for the city,” said the president of the council Cynthia I. Newbille, 7th district.

Council supporters also rejected the argument that a second vote would violate the precepts of majority rule.

“Is it undemocratic? No,” said Councilman Michael J. Jones, 9th District. “We follow the democratic process. We are well within the bounds of the law, and I believe we should act accordingly. It would only be undemocratic if we put shovels in the ground after the vote.

Councilman Andreas D. Addison, 1st District, agreed, “Referendums cycle and repeat. They are again recalled throughout the country. It is not undemocratic. It’s actually part of the process of making things better.

Regarding the statues, the council voted unanimously to hand over various statues to the Black History Museum, which will be fully responsible for them, including $5 million in insurance.

The list of items the museum will control includes statues and pedestals of Robert E. Lee, JEB Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis and Matthew Fontaine Maury, as well as statues and pedestals of Confederate Soldiers and Sailors, Joseph Bryan, Fitzhugh Lee , Williams C. Wickham and the Richmond Howitzers. The list also includes two examples of a Confederate gun.

Under the plan, the Black History Museum would partner with The Valentine and other groups to gain public input and determine the fate of objects long considered symbols of white supremacy.

As announced, the city was to retain physical possession until a final plan was in place for disposal of the items.

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