by Jon Baliles
The second casino referendum will be decided on Tuesday and it will be a vote (again) on whether or not Richmond wants to do the get-rich-quick schemes to help people or do the hard work of methodically mapping out a strategy and building a future. The get-rich-quick schemes like the casino and Navy Hill only benefit the select few, but the promoters promise the world to everyone and benevolence as far as the eye can see — vote for it and approve it for YOUR benefit, they say. It will be better FOR YOU than it will be for us, they boast.
We called B.S. on Navy Hill and we need to do it again with the casino, which will be a predatory drain on the community and do more harm than good, despite what they promise. And this will not be a policy wonky dive into the casino, I promise. That’s because this issue is sadly a nauseating reveal of what the casino developers really think about Richmond and Richmonders, told in their own words.
News came out this week that the promoters of the casino have been going on radio in recent days and trashing everyone in Richmond that does not support the casino. They have spent more than $10 million to try and convince people to vote for it, but they are badmouthing and trashing opponents on their own radio stations for all to hear with vile and offensive an inexcusable comments demeaning people of all kinds — black and white; the rich, middle class and poor; churchgoers, pastors. It did not matter. It was open season on anyone who didn’t support the casino; they especially went after Jim Ukrop and they absolutely thrash Tim Kaine because he voted no in 2021 and said there were better ways to promote economic development in Southside. Continue reading
by Jon Baliles
There has been a lot of boasting from the casino advocates about their partnership with Kentucky-based Churchill Downs, Inc. (CDI). The rebranded Richmond Grand casino developer Urban One is a radio and TV conglomerate that has said they are partnering with CDI because of their huge capitalization and experience with casinos. But let’s take a look at Churchill Downs’ casino portfolio, because it’s not what the casino advocates have been claiming.
CDI is obviously world-famous for the running of the Kentucky Derby horse race, and they have expanded their portfolio to include more and more gaming facilities in recent years. CDI bought out Peninsula Pacific Entertainment (PPE) in a $2.75 billion deal in 2022, and PPE had been Urban One’s original partner in the first, failed casino referendum. The deal included the Colonial Downs Racetrack in New Kent, as well as six Rosie’s Gaming Emporium historical horse racing facilities across Virginia plus two smaller casinos, one in Iowa and one in New York. But among the eleven casinos in the CDI portfolio, none are anywhere near the scale what they promise for Richmond. And none of those eleven casinos resemble anything grand — except for the indisputable fact that the house always wins, even if the resort looks more like an airport.
The Richmond Grand advocates claim their casino will have a 250-room hotel, an entertainment/concert venue with 3,000 seats, a TV and film production soundstage, and 15 restaurants and “dining options.” But if you look at their other casinos, they are all small casinos in small markets and are not even close to the “resort” they claim to be bringing to Richmond. Continue reading
by Jon Baliles
Republished with permission from RVA 5×5.
They say the past is prologue and that if you don’t learn from history, you are doomed to repeat it, among other famous quotes that have stood the test of time. And they have a factor of truth and lesson in them. And so is the case with next month’s casino referendum, the second one we have had the chance to vote for because the first one was ignored by city leaders in 2021.
This Deep Dive is a look back at the last time Richmond faced two referendums on one topic in short succession — the people were asked to vote to register their voice and they said no to the city leaders, planners, and business leaders. Both times, the people’s voice was ignored, and both times the city leaders overruled their vote and their voice and pursued their plans irrespective of the results — with disastrous and long-lasting consequences.
This may be starting to sound familiar. Continue reading
by Jon Baliles
The Richmond casino referendum this week was once again in the forefront of the news but not because of the impending vote or the discussion of the numerous proposed “benefits” the casino advocates have promised every group under the sun. No, this week it was made known that the company driving the effort to approve the casino referendum (again) is facing the possibility of being delisted by NASDAQ.
Nevertheless, the casino advocates assure all of the potential voters that they will be able to pay the city the $26 million up front payment within 30 days of the approval of the referendum (as spelled out in the agreement), AND build their proposed $562 million casino, AND provide $30 million to the city tax coffers every year from here to eternity, AND still pay off all the organizations and groups and investors they are promising largesse to win approval of the second casino referendum.
No promise is too big, no cost is too high, and no vote is too expensive. Continue reading
by Jon Baliles
Two weeks ago, you probably heard the news about the vote promise scam from Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and the casino advocates that they would put 2/3 of the annual casino tax revenue towards early childcare for kids in Southside. This week, you might have heard about the press conference that the unions held that said they reached an agreement with the casino advocates that would promise hundreds or thousands of new union jobs and “paths into the middle class” for young people and families.
While it is unconfirmed at this time, there are several rumors going around that in another few weeks that casino advocates will hold a press conference promising eternal life for seniors if they vote for the casino referendum on November 7th.
Who knows, at this rate of promising anything and everything for your vote, the casino advocates might have Oprah in RVA by late October offering new cars for any remaining voters as long as they have a mail-in ballot marked Yes. So, don’t vote too early!
The second casino referendum has become a leveraged buyout of the voters and there is no dollar amount or offer that won’t be matched by the casino advocates to get the referendum across the line the second time around. They have already raised and committed $8 million to buy your vote, and that total will almost certainly go up.
But alas, these and the other yet-to-be-revealed voting scams are just a way to hoodwink voters into believing that the casino will exist to do more good for the community than it will for the owners and investors. Which is clearly not the case. It isn’t the case in Bristol, or Danville, or Portsmouth or any casino in the country. Continue reading
by Jon Baliles
Early voting has begin in Virginia and the Richmond casino advocates have gone all-in with the mayor and City Council to make sure the referendum got back on the ballot and now are betting the house with an absurd amount of money to make sure the referendum passes this time.
Jimmy Cloutier at Virginia Investigative Journalism has an interesting piece on the all out effort by the casino advocates to buy their way to a victory at the polls this time around. He points out that two out-of-state companies (Urban One, based in Maryland and Churchill Downs, based in Kentucky) have already raised $8.1 million which “dwarfs the amount of money raised in every Virginia legislative race and ballot initiative in state history, according to an analysis of campaign finance data by OpenSecrets.” Continue reading
by Jon Baliles
One of Richmond’s great characters and personalities has decided to step away from spotlight that he occupied and managed so well for years (and always with a smile) after enduring incredibly long days and nights, rainouts, major league talent, loyal fans, a street art festival, a crumbling office, broken political promises, and an ocean of awful plaid pants.
Flying Squirrels CEO Todd “Parney” Parnell announced this week he will be stepping down from his day-to-day role after this season and remain as a senior advisor to the team for the next five years after 34 years in the baseball business. Parney arrived with the team in 2010 and hasn’t slept much since.
He told John O’Connor at the Times-Dispatch, “I think the key difference is I’m not going to be here from 6:30 in the morning until 1 o’clock in the morning anymore. The toll of that has been taken. I’m downshifting significantly.”
“I kind of feel like the athlete who’s stepping back a little bit when he still has a step or two left. I really wanted to — chill out’s the wrong term because I’m still going to be around — but I wanted to (leave) the day-to-day operations when I still felt like I was at the top of my game. And I do.”
And he has been at the top of his game since he arrived. I knew they would be a different franchise when they enlisted the public to help name the team in late 2009. More than 6,000 entries were received and the finalists included Rock Hoppers, Hambones, Rhinos, Flatheads, and Hush Puppies. And I recall not getting the name “Flying Squirrels” after it was selected, but then the very next day, Parney said in the paper (and I am paraphrasing) “We wanted to be fun and we wanted to be a different” and they have been all that and a home run. Continue reading
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Tagged Jon Baliles
by Jon Balilies
The City of Richmond has been discussing altering and revising regulations about short-term rentals (STR’s) and the next action will take place at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday afternoon (September 5th). It is an important decision because it is entirely possible the decision by the Commission and ultimately City Council could have a tremendous impact on housing availability, high sale prices, and neighborhood character.
For the last few years, the city has done a good job of holding public meetings and soliciting feedback through various methods and gathering information about short-term rental properties (like AirBnB and VRBO, etc.). Until 2020, they were technically illegal and unregulated but they did exist (they rose to a more visible status when the UCI 2015 Bike Championships came to town).
In gathering information and developing the first ordinance, the city said it wanted to find the right balance to allow property owners to take part, but also make sure it was done right to protect neighborhoods. Some other cities dove in head-first with few, if any, regulations, which led to adverse, if somewhat predictable, effects. Richmond smartly agreed to revisit the ordinance after having some time to evaluate the initial regulations. Currently, in residentially zoned areas, the city requires that owners must claim primary residence at least 185 days (just over half the year) to rent out as a STR. If the property owner has a converted garage, etc., then they may rent that out all year. In commercially- zoned areas, there is no residency requirement being proposed in the new legislation. Continue reading
by Jon Baliles
The unravelling saga of a failed development proposal downtown a block from City Hall that was supposed to rise out of the ashes of the failed Navy Hill project is still smoldering. The failed deal has come with a price tag of about $80 million so far (and growing) for VCU Health. They were supposed to be the main tenant of the project and, by all accounts, approved and signed a deal in July 2021 in which VCU accepted heavily one-sided terms that have become so expensive it could still ripple throughout the city, the university, and the state.
Eric Kolenich has peeled back the latest layer of the onion in an eye-popping article in the Times-Dispatch this week, with emails that revealed grave concerns with the deal that would leave VCU Health holding the bag, and also emails that showed more concern to close the deal than what was in it. The emails show both bad communication and miscommunication among those at top levels of VCU’s administration at both the Monroe Park campus and the medical campus. They were sent in a flurry in the weeks leading up to VCU inking and approving the deal, and ignored warnings that were raised in favor of a closer analysis or alternative parachutes that would offer a way out.
After the Navy Hill project failed in early 2020, Capital City Partners, the developers who led that attempt, returned to the city with a proposal for a development for the city’s dilapidated old Public Safety Building at 500 N. 10th Street (aka the Clay Street Project because it is at 10th & Clay Streets). The proposal was for a 17-20 story building that would be leased by VCU Health for office use. They would pay $650 million in rent over 25 years that would produce close to $60 million in tax revenue for the city.
VCU would have to pay rent starting in 2024, whether or not the building was completed, as well as pay for repairs and maintenance. If the project faced cost overruns, VCU would also be on the hook for those. And strangely, since it was office space, it would not generate any revenue for VCU Health like other facilities they had recently built (e.g. the Children’s Hospital). Continue reading
by Jon Baliles
Over in the woods behind Bandy Field Nature Park in the West End along (and overlapping with) the border of Henrico County near the Village Shopping Center, there is a small African-American cemetery with an enormous history that recently appeared in a feature by Bill Pike in the Henrico Citizen; it is well worth the fascinating read.
Just to set the stage: the cemetery is in an area that was important going back to colonial (and pre-colonial) times as the meeting point of two main roads — Three Notch’d Road (Three Chopt) and Horsepen Road. It was along the path of Dahlgren’s Raid in the Civil War, and it was also home to Huntley Plantation that held members of the Bradford family as slaves who, after emancipation, bought property with other freed slaves, along what is now known as Bandy Road (read a more detailed and absorbing history here). They expanded the formerly secret slave organization, the Sons of Ham, and in 1873 established the Sons and Daughters of Ham Cemetery. In the late 19th Century, Maggie Walker took a leadership role in forging an agreement between the Independent Order of St. Luke, which she ran, and the Ham Council.
More homes were built over the years until the mid-20th Century, when the City of Richmond (which had annexed the area in 1942) announced plans to build a school on the property, cited eminent domain, forced the residents out, and razed the houses and flattened the Civil War era earthworks in the area. After the families dispersed to Bon Air, Henrico, Northside, and the Westwood Neighborhood, the school was never built and the ability of the former residents to maintain the cemetery became a challenge. Continue reading
by Jon Baliles
There has been a lot of talk about the affordable housing crisis in the region in recent years, but it has been constant in 2023. The entire region needs 39,000 units as fast as it can get them; but interest rates are high, the market is stalling — every week there is a new twist or turn in the drama. And this week is no exception.
Em Holter at the Richmond Times-Dispatch has a disturbing story about the meeting this week of the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) Board that drew an overflow crowd reacting to the reckless idea by Mayor Levar Stoney and his administration for dissolving the Board and creating a commission instead, that allegedly would allow for raising more money from other sources and involve other partners. The mayor’s and the administration’s argument is that because there is more money to be allocated, there should be more oversight. But what they are proposing is not more sunlight, but less.
The AHTF Board is tasked with oversight of the money in the fund to help support and spur more affordable housing projects. Just last year, the Mayor and Council finally approved a commitment of putting $10 million per year in the fund for five years. Who doesn’t need more money and more partners to help tackle an issue as large and complex affordable housing? Sounds sensible, right? Except…
As the Times-Dispatch article points out, what this is really about is who controls the money and who gets to pick the “partners”:
But with more funding comes more oversight, which city administrators are hoping to achieve. To do so, City Hall wants to eliminate the board and establish a commission that would allow for more money and more partners.
Those in opposition argue that administrators are overstepping their bounds, which could lead to an imbalance of power, loss of control of funds and elimination of public input.
by Jon Baliles
Historic preservation is important for many reasons, like helping us better understand our past and how to improve it for future generations. One great advocate of preserving Richmond’s history to convey stories forward was Mary Winfield Scott, who passed away in 1983, but whose legacy lives on in neighborhoods across Richmond, and who was the subject of a great piece by Greg McQuade at CBS6.
Scott was a preservationist who helped save the 18th Century structure known as Linden Row on Franklin Street across from the city’s main library.
“[She] quickly recognized that we were losing places that made Richmond unique,” said Will Glasco, with Preservation Virginia, a group that was born from Scott’s efforts.
by Jon Baliles
Three weeks or so ago, the regurgitation of the casino referendum got a round of approval from almost everyone on City Council in a meeting that was filled with unearned righteousness about how it was going to save the city (kudos to Councilwoman Katherine Jordan for the lone no vote).
Richmond BizSense reported that:
Councilmembers contended that misinformation about the project the first go-round warranted putting it to the voters a second time. They stressed that the development (no longer being referred to as a casino), would not involve funding support from the city and would create jobs and economic opportunities for Southside and the rest of the city.
Of course, most people knew this the last go-round because the advocates of the casino spent $2.5 million on billboards, mailers, and ads telling us ad nauseam about the “benefits” of a casino and how it wouldn’t cost the city anything. Now, they want to pretend we were too stupid to know that the real reasons they were pushing the first time around weren’t what they spent $2.5 million promoting.
by Jon Baliles
Baseball season is in full swing and I have already been to three games to celebrate spring, sport, and sun. And because this is Richmond, I sometimes wonder how much longer I will be able to repeat this ritual in Aprils in the future. This week, the city announced it had reached final terms with developer RVA Diamond Partners to build a new stadium and the massive Diamond District project. But the news was something of a mixed bag for a variety of reasons.
Baseball is all about timing. When the pitcher starts his motion, when the batter cocks and decides whether to swing or not, and whether you can make contact. But after a few days of looking at the deal and reading about it, I realized something about the timing of it is off. This post is not a deep dive into the financials of the deal (that will come soon but not today).
by Jon Baliles
I often joke with people when I am asked about Manchester that it was an independent city until 1910 when they merged with Richmond — and they have probably regretted it ever since.
Em Holter has a nice piece in the Richmond Times-Dispatch about the merger of the city nicknamed “Dogtown” that is worth the read.
On the day of the vote in 1910, pro-merger pamphlets were distributed that promised lower taxes, better infrastructure, and free passage into Virginia’s capital city (no more toll on the bridge). Opponents cautioned that annexation would mean increased taxes and inferior services. History can certainly be ironic. Continue reading