The following appeared in the Richmond Times Dispatch November 15th and was written by Graham Moomaw
There was no dirt to shovel in the asphalt expanse of the former Kmart parking lot, so representatives from Colonial Downs and the city of Richmond did the next best thing.
They unfurled a “Coming Soon” banner outside the former big-box store off Midlothian Turnpike on Wednesday to herald the expected June 2019 opening of the first Rosie’s Gaming Emporium, a horse betting facility officials called a major boost to a part of the city that’s often overlooked.
“We are excited about one of the largest economic development deals to take place in the Ninth District in years,”said City Councilman Michael Jones. The South Richmond project — part of a multi-pronged push to reopen the Colonial Downs race track in New Kent County and establish a handful of off-track betting centers elsewhere in Virginia — is expected to bring 150 to 200 jobs with an average salary of more than $40,000.
The facility will feature a restaurant and bar, a simulcast betting facility that will live stream thoroughbred races from other states and 700 historical horse racing terminals, the newly legalized slots-like gambling machines powered by an archive of horse races.
“It will not be long before Rosie’s hosts Richmond’s biggest Kentucky Derby party, Richmond’s biggest Preakness party and Richmond’s biggest Virginia Derby party,” said John Marshall, senior vice president and general manager for Colonial Downs.
The $41 million project is projected to generate $15.5 million in tax revenue each year, with $3 million to $4 million going to the city of Richmond, according to Colonial Downs.
Jones challenged Mayor Levar Stoney to a race on Brownie Girl and Judge, two horses that stood next to the crowd of about 75 people at Wednesday’s groundbreaking ceremony. The mayor declined, but the two men fed carrots to the event’s equine stars.
Stoney thanked several New Kent officials who were in the audience, saying “nothing big” in the Richmond region happens without cooperation. “I can’t wait to come down here and look at the change that will occur in this parking lot,” Stoney said. “It will be truly revolutionary.”
Chicago-based Revolutionary Racing purchased Colonial Downs in April from the track’s original owner, Jacobs Entertainment. Jacobs shuttered the track in 2014 and surrendered its license, a major setback for the Virginia racing industry.
The sale of the track earlier this year was made possible by legislation that legalized historical horse racing machines, which will bring in new gambling revenues to support live racing. Unlike other businesses that come to town offering job-creating projects, Jones said, the new Colonial Downs owners didn’t ask for tax breaks or other subsidies they could “squeeze out of the city and Richmond taxpayers.” Instead, Jones said, the company has pledged to give $500,000 to nearby Miles Jones Elementary School over five years.
Neighbors had some concerns that a gambling facility might bring crime, Jones said, but Colonial Downs representatives held community meetings to ease those fears and promise a well-lit facility with security cameras pointing in all directions. “They did it the right way,” Jones said.
Colonial Downs is pursuing similar off-track betting facilities in Hampton, Chesapeake and the town of Vinton in Roanoke County.