Civil rights, labor unions back casino campaign

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 9/28/2023, 6 p.m.
The current campaign to win Richmond voter support for $562 million casino, resort and entertainment complex has secured support from …

The current campaign to win Richmond voter support for $562 million casino, resort and entertainment complex has secured support from civil rights groups and a big thumbs up from the labor unions that will build it.

The state NAACP and the Richmond branch both issued statements of endorsement as did the Richmond Crusade for Voters in urging a positive vote on the referendum that is on the Nov. 7 election ballot.

The Richmond Branch NAACP led by James E. “JJ” Minor III urged voters to back the project and stated that the endorse- ment “is consistent with the NAACP’s historic commitment to economic opportunity and advancement for people of color.”

Along with the state NAACP, the branch enthused over the prospects that the development would produce 1,300 permanent jobs and has set goals to have 40% inclusion of minority businesses and to have 60% of employees hired form the city.

The branch and state NAACP also noted the projections that the project would generate $30 million in annual tax revenue for the city, with the lion’s share, $19 million, to be devoted to support child care and early childhood education.

The Crusade, the oldest Black political group in the Rich- mond area, also urged voters to support the project proposed for development on a 100-acre site at Commerce Road and Walmsley Boulevard at Interstate 95’s Bells Road interchange in South Side.

On Tuesday, Charles Skelly, president of the Richmond Area Building and Construction Area Building and Construction Trades Council, led a contingent of labor union members in promoting the gusher of jobs that will be created to build the huge development.

Mr. Skelly announced at the casino’s campaign office in Shockoe Bottom that a project labor agreement (PLA) had been reached with the general contractor, Hourigan Construction, ensuring skilled workers on the project will be highly paid.

During the press conference, Mr. Skelly said plans are afoot for job fairs to recruit needed workers from Richmond.

If voters approve, he said that at least 1,700 carpenters, plumbers, electricians, ironworkers, laborers and other workers are likely to be employed in building the complex that is to include a casino, luxury hotel, 3,000-seat concert venue and a 55-acre public park.

With all the work going on in the Richmond area, Mr. Skelly said that potentially 300 to 600 people might need to be hired to work on the development if a majority of voters pass a ref- erendum in the election on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

The casino’s Richmond Wins, Vote Yes campaign manager, Tierra Ward, said the PLA “would ensure fair wages and benefits, promote local hiring, include small, women and minority-owned businesses and create apprenticeship opportunities.”

The PLA is a pre-hire agreement that sets out the terms and conditions for the project that all subcontractors as well as the general Contractor must abide by.

“This project is good for the city for many reasons,” said Mr. Skelly, also the business agent for the electricians union, “and the most important reason to me” involves the jobs the project that will be created to build and operate the new space.”

Knight Williams, an apprentice in the carpenter’s union, said he was “excited about the opportunities this project” would cre- ate for himself and others who will take part.

On Monday night, City Council added its voice of support in passing a resolution calling for creation of a trust fund that would use new tax revenue from the casino to support child care and early childhood education.

If the casino is approved, the partners in the enterprise, Kentucky-based racing and gambling conglomerate Churchill Downs and Maryland-based Bmedia giant Urban One, to make an immediate contribution of $26.5 million to the city.

Of those funds, $14 million is to be spent to add day cares to the new T.B. Smith and Southside community centers, with another $4.5 million to be used to support day care operations.

In addition, the council plans to earmark $19 million of any new tax revenue the casino generates yearly to the trust fund to assist in expanding child care options for city residents.

The two companies have contributed a record $8 million to support the campaign, or four times what was spent in 2021 by casino advocates.

Even so, a scrappy opposition is still seeking a repeat of the 2021 vote in which a majority of Richmond voters rejected the casino proposal.

Paul Goldman, who heads the No Means No Casino campaign, called it “shameful” that labor unions and civil rights groups are so committed to a project that involves “fleecing working- class people. You can’t get the benefits unless there are plenty of people whom these groups supposedly support who end up losing their money.”

On Tuesday, Dr. David Wright, pastor of the Community Church of God in Christ, joined the No Casino campaign. He declared that the “casino may be legal, but is immoral.” He said he was recruiting other ministers to stand in opposition.