What we're learning about the plan to build a new casino in Virginia and what the community is saying about it

Posted at 5:36 PM, Apr 25, 2024
and last updated 2024-04-25 21:56:23-04

PETERSBURG, Va. — Empty land off Wagner Road and Interstate 95 is the site where Petersburg city officials would like Virginia's next casino to be located.

On Wednesday, Petersburg City Council unanimously selected The Cordish Companies' proposal to build a $1.4-billion hotel-casino resort this week following a closed session that reportedly lasted over an hour and a half. The decision takes the process one step closer to giving residents the final say in a November referendum.

Four other companies vied to be the casino operator and took part in a public forum earlier this month where they made pitches to Petersburg residents.

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Cordish is the company that Petersburg selected when the city initially began its efforts to attract a casino two years ago.

In a news release about the selection Thursday, the city did not indicate why council chose Cordish. In response to questions, a city spokesperson told CBS 6 that Petersburg's financial consultant ranked the Cordish proposal as having the most economic benefit.

When CBS 6 asked for a copy of the analysis, we were told it was confidential.

“We extend our thanks to the entire Petersburg City Council for its thoughtful decision to select Bruce Smith Enterprise and The Cordish Companies as development partners for this transformative, world-class destination in Petersburg,” said Zed Smith, Chief Operating Officer for The Cordish Companies, in a released statement. “The Cordish Companies’ track record for designing, financing, building, and operating large-scale mixed-use developments and casino resort destinations in the country is unmatched, and together with Bruce as our development partner, no one comes close to our combined history of success and capabilities to deliver on a destination of this scale and complexity.”

While no members of city council were quoted in the city's news release or responded to CBS 6's request for a comment, quotes from two of them were included in the news release from Cordish.

“The City of Petersburg is thrilled to have selected Bruce Smith Enterprise and The Cordish Companies as development partners after a thorough RFP process and extensive review by outside consultants,” said Mayor Sam Parham, City of Petersburg, VA. “An important part of our evaluation was to identify a development team with a proven track record in developing and operating mixed-use and casino properties, a long history of revitalizing cities across the country, and strong community engagement practices. Bruce Smith and Cordish’s experience, comprehensive project master plan and visionary approach, ideal site location, robust financial strength, and commitment to swift market entry make them the clear and unanimous choice of both our consultants and City Council. The City has worked very hard to get to this point, and we believe that it is imperative to continue moving this project forward as expeditiously as possible so that we can meet the deadline to get this in front of our citizens for a referendum vote this November.”

“As a result of Council's unanimous decision to select their preferred casino operator, I am ecstatic about the potential transformative opportunities Bruce Smith Enterprise and The Cordish Companies are to unleash,” said Ward 5 Councilmember W Howard Meyers. “The City of Petersburg has been grossly underrated and disenfranchised for decades. As a former Mayor and member of City Council, my respect for Mayor Samuel Parham leading the team is unmatched as my successor in the drive to accomplish the greatest feats of a city broken by the color of its skin.”

After legislation passed by the General Assembly this year, Petersburg was given the right to be the fifth and final host city for a casino in Virginia -- after voters in Richmond twice rejected one.

The law requires residents in each host city vote on the casino in a referendum.

The city said it will now enter into negotiations with Cordish and submit their proposal to the Virginia Lottery Board, which must review and approve it. After that, a circuit court judge would have to approve the ballot referendum question.

If all that is approved, it then goes to residents like Linda Crocker for the final say.

"I haven't made my mind up. I see pros and cons of both," Crocker said. "Pros, I think it will bring in some jobs. It will bring in some tax revenue for the city. Cons, I don't know if it's going to bring any criminal element to the city. If it's going to bring in people that shouldn't be gambling."

Petersburg Casino
Linda Crocker

Maurice Epps also said he was undecided about a casino. He said he thought city leaders should be focused elsewhere.

"They got other things such as, like, living arrangements, business more open -- jobs. Shelters, stuff like that they need to be worrying about," Epps said.

Petersburg Casino
Maurice Epps

Nancy Allen does not want a casino built in her community.

"Partly due to the infrastructure. I don't think we have enough restaurants, hotels, that kind of thing to cover something like that. I think security worries me," Allen said.

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