Two entertainment venues on the table for Richmond were given the City Council’s endorsement at its meeting Monday night, one of them two years after voters narrowly rejected it.
Councilmembers unanimously approved a performance grant agreement for the planned Richmond Amphitheater on the riverfront near Tredegar, and almost unanimously approved ordinances authorizing agreements that set the stage for a potential second referendum in November on Urban One’s proposed casino in South Richmond.
Katherine Jordan of the Second District voted against selecting Urban One’s RVA Entertainment Holdings LLC as the city’s preferred operator for the casino, but voted in support of two related agreements between the LLC and the city that revive the prospect of the $600 million One Casino + Resort, should it go again to a referendum and voters approve it.
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, planned off Walmsley Boulevard, would not involve funding support from the city and would create jobs and economic opportunities for Southside and the rest of the city.
“I’m in support of a project that isn’t going to cost us anything,” said Ann-Frances Lambert of the Third District. “This is something that can actually help us bring our tax rate down. We’ve got to say yes to projects like this in order for us to do so.”
“The vote was really narrow last time, and I think it’s good to put it out to the residents again,” added the Fourth District’s Kristen Nye.
“One of the big misconceptions during the referendum the last time was that the City of Richmond was making fiscal investments, was giving away land, was doing all of these things and we weren’t,” Nye said. “This is purely revenue for us. I haven’t seen a deal like this since I’ve been on council.”
The council has previously committed to a 2 cent reduction in the city real estate tax rate if the second referendum passes, and $560 million in capital investment specifically to Richmond Public Schools and city projects. Urban One also had committed to pay the city $25 million upfront, and the project has been projected to create 1,500 permanent jobs and 3,000 construction jobs.
Council President Michael Jones maintained Monday that holding a second referendum isn’t an affront to the will of the voters.
“We did listen to the people in the last referendum. Democracy was served, because no shovels went into the ground the next week,” Jones said. “We can talk about all the issues about why it did and didn’t. Ultimately I believe the citizens should have an opportunity to vote on this this next time. I just firmly believe that.
“There’s no comparison to this deal. There just isn’t,” Jones said, “whether it’s the amphitheater, whether it was old Navy Hill, whether it’s the Diamond District. Not one penny of taxpayer dollars is going into it. There is no tax increment financing at all. We start making money day one as a city.”
The approvals allow the city to meet state deadlines for putting a referendum on the ballot this November. According to the city, the Virginia Lottery and Richmond Circuit Court will need to review and approve the referendum before it can be placed on the ballot.
Amphitheater deal approved
Also approved at Monday’s meeting was the performance grant agreement for the Richmond Amphitheater project that Coran Capshaw’s Red Light Ventures is proposing beside the Tredegar Iron Works complex. The agreement provides a 20-year performance grant from the city based on the new incremental real estate and admissions tax revenue generated by the project to help offset the project cost.
The $30 million project is to be paid for by Capshaw’s group, which would lease the 4-acre site on the hillside behind Tredegar from property owner NewMarket Corp. The 7,500-capacity venue would host 25 to 35 acts a year, and the arrangement with the city allows Richmond and local nonprofits to utilize the venue for civic events and other gatherings.
Red Light Ventures is aiming to start construction this summer to open the amphitheater in time for the 2025 outdoor concert season. The group has compared the Richmond venue in size to Nashville’s Ascend Amphitheater and the Live Oak Bank Pavilion in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Capshaw, who manages the Dave Matthews Band and is involved in the ownership or management of similar venues across the country, led the development of Ting Pavilion, the 3,500-seat amphitheater on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall. His Red Light Management group also co-manages the 6,800-capacity Ascend Amphitheater in Nashville.
In a public hearing before the vote, two speakers voiced concerns about the amphitheater project and site.
Joseph Rogers, who once worked at the American Civil War Museum at Tredegar, asked that signage interpreting the site’s history be returned or replaced as part of the project. Oregon Hill resident Charles Poole asked that the vote be continued to allow time to tweak the project to mitigate sound and other impacts on the nearby neighborhood.
Fifth District Councilmember Stephanie Lynch expressed support for the historic interpretation, as did the Seventh District’s Cynthia Newbille, who encouraged commitments from the developer to add interpretation to the project. Lynch added that a meeting about mitigation for the project was scheduled to be held today.