City Council Meeting – January 24, 2022

Citizen comments began with Brian Bills, who discussed how last week the Richmond Redevelopment and Housing Authority (RRHA) were evicting 1100 housing units, or one out of four residents in RRHA. He clarifies that this means 1100 housing units, so if there are four people in each unit, then there are eviction lawsuits against 2% of Richmond residents. This will be happening in 25 days. He asked for three things to be done by the council. First, to formally pass a resolution to extend the freeze on filing eviction cases until more people are enrolled in rent relief. Second, no evictions should be filed until more outreach is given. Third, to put city resources to sign residents for rent relief.

Beth Almore is a teacher in Richmond Public Schools (RPS), and brought to council members attention the petition signed by over 1000 community members, which asks to freeze evictions to keep children in stable housing. It is important to the health of Richmond schools for students to not face eviction and difficulty in their family. 

After these comments, comments on the consent agenda were shared.

Abigail Thompson spoke against Item 40, RES 2021-R088, “To designate the property known as 700 West 44th Street as a revitalization area pursuant to Va. Code § 36-55.30:2.” She is speaking as the representative of Ashton Square apartments, which is  adjacent to the building. There are already 900 affordable housing units in this single family neighborhood, and so she finds that this building would only bring in additional traffic in an already congested area.

Afterward, the council moved on to the regular agenda.

The first discussed three different items

  • Item 38. 2022-014. “To authorize the Chief Administrative Officer, for and on behalf of the City of Richmond, to execute a Resort Casino Host Community Agreement between the City of Richmond and RVA Entertainment Holdings, LLC, for the purpose of facilitating the development of a resort casino project in the city of Richmond.
  • Item 39. 2022-015. To authorize the Chief Administrative Officer, for and on behalf of the City of Richmond, to execute a Community Support Agreement among City of Richmond, Casino Owner, Casino Manager and Casino Developer between the City of Richmond, RVA Entertainment Holdings, LLC, Richmond VA Management, LLC, and Richmond VA Development, LLC, for the purpose of facilitating the fulfillment of certain negotiated community benefits in connection with the development of a resort casino project in the city of Richmond.
  •  Item 42. Res 2022-R003. To select RVA Entertainment Holdings, LLC, as the City’s preferred casino gaming operator to operate a casino gaming establishment located at 2001 Walmsley Boulevard and 4700 Trenton Avenue and to provide for the requisite referendum thereon pursuant to Va. Code § 58.1-4123.

Councilwoman Trammel commented that the Casino will help all of Richmond with over 1500 jobs being offered. She gets many calls from residents asking for jobs, and this casino will give just that.

Many people are signed to speak for opposition and support, with there being 10 on each side. Each person is allotted 2 minutes to speak.

David is a homeowner and professor  at William and Mary. He mentioned that gamblinng losses  is a Bipartisan issue. Communities that are nearby casinos have double the gambling issues. He cited more statistics, such as that 2% of America is addicted to gambling. He adds that socioeconomic costs will be damaging to the city. While some may perceive casinos to be fun, that is actually not true. Casinos make profits by getting 80% of their revenue from low income families’ gambling losses. 

Allen commented that introducing this re-referendum is anti-democratic and an example of voter suppression. Why is it that it is harder for the city to build a school than a casino? He references something President Biden said, in which things become dangerous once “the will of voters become suggestions.” He believes the purpose of this vote is to bet on the exhaustion of those who voted no, they will not show up the second time. 

James is unsure of the legality of this discussion in itself, since the approval time should have been last November. He is from the 4th district and is disappointed that their councilwoman seems to support it, despite the opinions of the residents. He asserts that this is all anti-democratic and that the council “should be ashamed.”

Doug reminds the council that the referendum was on the ballot on November 2, and now there will be a do-over? 51% of Richmond residents opposed the casino. This was voted on freely and fairly. 

Brian is a business owner. He stated that Richmond doesn’t need a casino. They are rigged to drain people.

Michael comments that the city is already in recovery from addiction. The city should provide enough support for those suffering with addiction as of now, and not fuel the problem with this casino.

Debbie recalls to the council that all of the council members except one passed the referendum, to “let the people decide.” And so, the majority said no. It took constant door knocking to help push for their side, not gift cards or free gas as “incentives.” She asks them to respect the democratic process. 

John questioned the council: given that the vote was less than three months ago, what has changed?

Mike restated that this referendum was democratically voted down. It is extreme manipulation on the part of city officials to continue this discussion. He also stated that the license of the casino is not owned by a black owned company. As such, there is manipulation and inaccuracies everywhere. 

————–

The following comments are for those in support of the items.

Oludare wants the casino to give union wages and retirement plans to construction workers who work on the casino and to make sure that Richmonders are the ones to build the casino . Lies mentioned by Mike. First vote are people fed by lies. They don’t have issues with lotteries or other issues.

Clovia has worked with Urban One Inc., the majority owner of ONE Casino + Resort, for many years. According to her, “we listen to the voice of the people.” Through different initiatives, they help the community, supporting people to get housing and providing mental health resources.

Alfred is part of the developer of ONE Casino + Resort. He states that the casino is  about opportunity and equity. It will be an economic engine with film and TV production, fine dining, and a 4 star hotel.

Mark is a business owner who wants to see the city move forward. To prosper, the city must be strong. He pushed that there would be $512 million  revenue over 10 years with the casino. 3000 new construction jobs, let alone other things.

Shannon runs a non-profit organization that funds opportunities in the creative industry. The casino, if built, would have a 15,000 square feet film and TV production facility. It would be the only built sound stage in the region. This level of production will be able to support television shows, movies, and internships in media production. There would also be an entertainment facility with 3000 seats. That would allow for lighting technicians, sound engineers, and other jobs to be utilized. Urban one also plans to display local art in the building. 

Rodney pushes that there will be many jobs with benefits. The revenue can help with social services and other city services. 

After these comments, Council members spoke to share their own thoughts on the items and their responses to the comments. 

Councilman Addison stated that this re-referendum would not be anti-democratic, as the process is all about trying things multiple times. That is common in this process. He also stated that when he thinks of casinos in other areas, many people do not come for the casino, they come for what is around it, all the festivities and entertainment sources. In addition, the city is not paying a dime. However, he does understand that his district did not vote for the casino.

Councilwoman Lynch stated that there was misinformation going around that there was city money involved. However, that is not the case. People have moral assignments to casino gaming, yet internet gambling, lottery tickets, bars and alcohol are not met with the same opposition, which should be unpacked. She also stated that for the precincts that immediately surround the project voted yes to the casino in 74% 80% 81%. Somme people who have opposed this project have likely never even been to that part of town and so their perception of what the community wants may be skewed.

Council Vice President Robertson reassures everyone that spoke that “we hear you”. She acknowledges the relationships between race and addiction and how addiction is a real problem for some residents. She wants to meet with the owner of the project to explicitly talk about addiction in regards to the casino. She hopes to unite everyone in the city of richmond. She says that this may be the largest economic deal she has ever seen during her time on council. Especially a project in a region that desperately needs growth. It is devastating to see the lack of resources in the nearby neighborhoods. Urban One allows for many varied job opportunities. She feels like Richmond has to come to the realization that if we want to develop as a city and turn it into a great opportunity, economic development is the only way to accomplish that.

Councilman Jones said that given that the majority of the 9th voted for this, he also supports the project. He also argues that gambling is already here in the city. There are machines all throughout the southside. These things are already going on and nobody has said anything to the same extent that they have on this project. He also asks people to please not demonize people for differing opinions.

Councilwoman Lambert states that many residents desire property tax relief. This project would do this. “At this time, we need this.”

Councilwoman Jordan recognizes that she is an outlier. She appreciates all the people who have spoken and their differing opinions, but she is not swayed by hers. She also states that even if the referendum was voted yes to the casino, she would not push for a re-vote. 

Council President Newbile spoke last, restating that this project is one of the only projects that would not require any city money, and yet all the benefits and revenue would be for the city. 

The vote was called, with all council members besides Councilwoman Jordan supporting the items. As such, in November of this year, the ballot will once again have the referendum question of whether the ONE Casino + Resort would be built.

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