RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – As residents of Richmond’s 8th Borough Council gathered at the Hickory Hill Community Center Thursday, they were greeted with a wall of purple signs asking them to vote yes in a November referendum, to allow a casino nearby.
And inside, behind a small table in front of the stage, she was greeted by Alfred C. Liggins, III – CEO of Urban One, the company behind the casino proposal.
His plan, billed as the ONE Casino + Resort, is to invest hundreds of millions in a hotel and casino complex off Commerce Road in Richmond’s Southside – if approved by voters.
While prominent political figures such as Reva Trammell, City Councilor of the 8th
Development of Deja Vu
Critics have expressed concerns that the proposal, like the failed development of Navy Hill, also championed by Mayor Levar Stoney, could cost the city and potentially pull money away from its poorest residents.
In a Facebook post on May 12, Democratic candidate and community activist Richard Walker wrote that the casino “[pull] Wealth from low-income communities and provides political protection for lawmakers who do not want to levy taxes on the rich. “
At the community meeting, Trammell quickly assured residents that this proposal would be different.
She said she had discussed the proposal at length and her stance was, “If it doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime, I’m for it”.
Richmond Councilor Reva Trammel (left) is a prominent supporter of the casino proposal. (Photo: Jakob Cordes / WRIC)
For fans of the casino, this is a selling point that sets it apart from the controversial Navy Hill plan. The Navy Hill deal would have required the city to issue hundreds of millions of bonds that were paid for with theoretical future tax revenues.
The casino proposal, which voters will vote on in the November 2nd election, specifically states that Richmond will have “no discounts, exceptions, subsidies, incentives, rebates, funding, financial exemptions, or any other form of funding or tax relief” for the Project will grant.
Location, location, location
“If it doesn’t happen here, it will end elsewhere – the General Assembly will not let Central Virginia go without a casino.”
Alfred C. Liggins, III, CEO of urban one
The Urban One plan was one of three proposals that were considered finalists by the Richmond City Council. In remarks at the community meeting, Liggins said part of the reason Urban One’s plan was chosen was because of its location in an industrial area in Richmond’s 8th district.
According to Liggins, the land currently owned by the Phillip Morris Company is a “great place to put where it won’t get in the way”.
He and Trammell said the project would draw city services’ attention to the area that Trammell said has long been neglected.
Liggins insisted that the issue was not whether a casino would be built in the area – it was whether it would be in the city of Richmond.
“If it doesn’t happen here, it will end elsewhere – the General Assembly is not going to let Central Virginia go without a casino,” he said.
One of the selling points that Liggins repeatedly emphasized was the economic benefits the casino would bring to locals as well as attendees at the community meeting.
He pointed out a clause in their agreement with Richmond that required at least 40 percent of construction contracts to be awarded to “minority companies” and another that 60 percent of casino employees must be Richmond residents.
But there is a catch – a compensation clause that says the city “must not try in any way or in any way”.
to influence or otherwise control the owner’s performance ”of clauses relating to recruitment practices. This begs the question of how the city can actually enforce its own agreement with Urban One.
And while Liggins repeatedly stressed the importance of black ownership of Urban One, prominent Richmond Black activists have spoken out against the proposal.
On Race Capitol, a community radio broadcast on WRIR 97.3 FM hosted by Chelsea Higgs Wise, Naomi Isaac and Kalia Harris, former city council candidate Allen-Charles Chipman said the city was already in the process of distributing funds for the American rescue plan passed Southside, so it’s hard to believe casino revenue will be any different: “If people care about Southside in all of this, say so with your treasure chest.”
Chipman argued that while tax revenues are good for the city’s balance sheets, the local impact may not be as sunny.
“Research actually shows that casinos can also reduce property value by up to fifteen percent of the surrounding area,” he said. “When people said ‘build it over there’ and all that other racist stuff you saw, the city actually decided to do it.”
Urban One has its own, much broader radio presence. The company owns radio stations in major cities along the east coast and reaches 15 million listeners a week, according to the company’s website.
One of these stations is 99.3 KISS FM, a Richmond R&B and Classic Soul station that the casino advertises on its website with a direct link to the company’s campaign page and stories promoting the casino.
A screenshot of the KISS FM homepage with a banner link to the casino’s website and a story promoting the casino.
News One, the company’s journalism arm, has widely praised the proposal and shown its support from figures like Reverend Al Sharpton.
In addition, 8News reported earlier this year that investors in Liggins and ONE Casino were prominent donors to both Mayor Levar Stoney’s campaign and members of the General Assembly.
All of this may have given Liggins confidence that voters will approve the casino in November. A sign of this confidence is his assertion at the community meeting that the hiring has already started: “We had a job fair today, a supplier fair yesterday.”
The referendum question will appear on the ballot paper for voters registered in Richmond, whether they vote in person on November 2nd, prior to October 31st in early voting locations, or by postal vote.