Petersburg approves Cordish Cos. for possible casino
Despite no state approval, city takes steps
Petersburg City Council is taking a gamble on Maryland-based The Cordish Cos. to develop a casino there — even though Petersburg doesn’t yet have permission to build a casino, according to state law.
Council members voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of Cordish,, a commercial real estate company that has developed casinos across the mid-Atlantic and Florida. It also redeveloped Norfolk’s Waterside District and Richmond’s Riverside on the James, an $86 million mixed-use development that repurposed a century-old power plant.
State Sen. Joe Morrissey, a Democrat who represents parts of Richmond and all of Petersburg, has already filed legislation for next year’s General Assembly session to allow Petersburg to build a casino and block a competing casino project in Richmond. Unless that measure gains support of the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, the Virginia State Senate and Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the Petersburg Council’s vote will remain symbolic.
“An important part of our evaluation was to identify a development partner 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,” Petersburg Mayor Sam Parham said in a statement. “The development of a casino in Petersburg is a once in a generation opportunity to set the course for economic growth for decades to come. We are confident that we have selected the ideal partner in The Cordish Cos. to bring to fruition our vision for Petersburg.”
Parham did not answer questions about details regarding the development, including a possible location or estimated price, in an email to Virginia Business Wednesday but said there would be a “complete presentation” delivered at the Petersburg Public Library on Oct. 25 at 4 p.m.
Richmonders may be familiar with Cordish as one of several development teams that pitched casino projects there in 2021, proposing a $600 million hotel and resort casino. One of two finalists vying to build a resort casino in Richmond, Cordish caught a great deal of flak for proposing a location near the city’s North Side and Fan districts, where many neighbors and one Richmond City Council member said they would oppose any casino project. Ultimately, Richmond City Council endorsed Urban One Inc.’s ONE proposed $565 million Casino + Resort but voters rejected the casino in a competitive referendum in November 2021.
Since then, Richmond officials, Petersburg officials and Morrissey have been at loggerheads as both cities want their chance (in Richmond’s case, a second chance) at a casino. Morrissey has pushed for Petersburg to host a casino since late 2021, although his legislation to that effect was killed in this spring’s General Assembly session.
Richmond and Urban One Inc. then tried to place the referendum on the 2022 ballot for a second try but were blocked by state budget language — promoted by Morrissey — that said the city of Richmond could not hold another voter referendum on a casino until November 2023. Although Urban One and city officials threatened to sue the state over the legislation, they later agreed to focus on promoting a referendum in 2023. In September, however, news reports said the city’s casino contract with Urban One was terminated.
The state’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission released a report Monday finding that Richmond and Petersburg could each support a casino, and that adding one in both cities could boost state casino gaming revenue by 36% if both were authorized and open by 2027 and had a full year of operations completed by 2028.
According to scenarios laid out in the report, if a casino were authorized only in Petersburg and opened in 2027, state gaming revenue would be boosted by 18% after a full year. If a Richmond casino were authorized and opened in 2027, state gaming revenue would rise by 28.8%.
Petersburg could add 1,283 full and part-time workers by 2028 and generate as much as $204 million in revenue with a casino operating only in that city, the report adds, while a casino operating in Richmond could generate up to $300 million by 2028. If casinos are operating in both cities, Petersburg could generate up to $140 million by 2028; Richmond could see $248 million. Under that scenario, Petersburg’s casino would generate about 300 fewer jobs.
As of 2022, voters have approved four casinos in Bristol, Danville, Norfolk and Portsmouth, after the General Assembly legalized commercial casinos in five economically disadvantaged cities whose voters approve projects via referendum. Bristol’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino opened in a temporary location in July; its permanent casino is expected to open in 2024. Danville’s Caesars Virginia casino and resort is expected to open in 2024, as is Norfolk’s HeadWaters Resort & Casino. Rivers Casino Portsmouth expects to open its casino in January.