Petersburg Picks Cordish for Casino, City Council Transparency Questioned Again

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The Petersburg City Council on Wednesday evening chose The Cordish Companies as its preferred casino developer. Before ground can be broken on the Baltimore-based Live! casino operator’s proposed project, local voters must first authorize its creation through a citywide ballot referendum this fall.

Petersburg residents attend a town hall on April 14 to hear about the Virginia city’s proposed casino developments. The Petersburg City Council voted unanimously on April 24 to go with Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia, a scheme from Baltimore-based Cordish Companies. (Image: CBS6 News Richmond)

The Petersburg City Council unanimously picked Cordish over five other companies that threw their names in the bidding hat. Cordish was selected over casino pitches from Bally’s Corporation, Penn Entertainment, Delaware North, The Warrenton Group, and Rush Street Gaming.

Cordish pitched Petersburg a $1.4 billion mixed-use development on 92 acres of land located at Wagner Rd. and Interstate 95 south of the downtown area. Anchored by Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia, the proposal seeks to become a major tourist destination in Central Virginia.

Along with Cordish, the project includes a 50% minority equity participation led by Bruce Smith Enterprise, the real estate development firm owned by Virginia native and NFL Hall of Famer Bruce Smith, the Reynolds family, which owns Reynolds Metals in Richmond, and former NFL player and Virginia native Bill McMullen.

The $1.4 billion price tag is inclusive of several development phases, with the casino and hotel accounting for only a portion. The remaining components of the mixed-use undertaking — residential, retail, and office space — would come in subsequent expansion stages after the casino and hotel are up and running.

City Council Defends Process 

When Petersburg was first considered for a casino opportunity in 2022, city councilors announced Cordish as their preferred gaming partner. The announcement came after no competitive bidding process, something that was criticized by many in the community that’s located about 25 miles south of the Richmond capital.

Petersburg officials pledged more transparency this time around, but Wednesday night’s vote left many wondering if Cordish had the project in the bag all along. City councilors quickly left the meeting without talking to the press.

Councilor Howard Myers, a former Petersburg mayor, subsequently issued a statement about the vote. It detailed little as to how the council arrived at choosing Cordish.

The city of Petersburg has been grossly underrated and disenfranchised for decades. As a former mayor and member of the city council, my respect for Mayor Samuel Parham for 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. We, the City Council, are proud of these accomplishments and further hold our citizens in the highest regard for their future and financial well-being. Petersburg, a city that changed a Global Society setting the stage for the Civil Rights Movement out of Gillfield Baptist Church with the resilience of a better future for the Commonwealth of Virginia and the world,” Myers declared.

Myers did add that Cordish was deemed the best proposal of the six by Davenport & Co., the city’s financial advisor that reviewed the presentations. Representatives from the six bidding organizations made their cases before the City Council on Wednesday in a closed-door 90-minute session before the council’s public vote.

Next Steps

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) returned Senate Bill 628 to the General Assembly earlier this month after amending the legislation to remove a reenactment clause that would have required state lawmakers to vote again on designating Petersburg as an eligible host city for a casino. Last week, both legislative chambers approved the governor’s change, which enacted the bill and officially qualifies Petersburg for commercial gaming with slot machines, table games, and sports betting.

With the casino scheme chosen, city officials will now write the referendum language that will appear on Petersburg’s November 2024 ballot. If a simple majority backs the Cordish project, the casino will be cleared to move forward.

Cordish says Live! Casino & Hotel Virginia will come with 1,000 slots, 23 live dealer tables, a 15-table poker room, a high-limit room, and a sportsbook. The resort will feature 200 hotel rooms and suites, a 3,000-seat entertainment venue, eight restaurants and bars, a resort pool, a fitness center, and 35,000 square feet of meeting space.

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