Now is ‘the right time’ for a casino in Petersburg

Porcher L. Taylor Jr. and Ann Taylor

Guest Op-Ed Writers

Petersburg stands at a crossroads. The General Assembly is considering legislation to give our family and our fellow Petersburg citizens an opportunity to vote in a local referendum on bringing a $1.4 billion dollar economic development project that includes a destination resort casino to Petersburg. Amid this discussion, we want to share the perspective of a family that has spent more than 45 years in Petersburg and experienced first-hand both the city’s many challenges and its considerable potential.

Petersburg’s economic struggles going back many decades have been well-documented. Petersburg fits every possible definition of a distressed city. Petersburg has a 24% poverty rate, 13.9% unemployment and has experienced a 7.1% population decline since 2000, all alarming figures. As a minority-majority city, with a 75% African-American population, Petersburg has suffered from historic inequities that trace their roots back many generations. The city’s long-term lack of adequate outside investment and sufficient tax revenue nearly pushed Petersburg to the brink in 2016. Thankfully, the city is recovering and now has a strong leadership team in place, pushing us in the right direction.

Porcher and Ann Taylor Contributed Photo

Why is this the right opportunity and time for Petersburg?

It is the right opportunity because it will bring thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in local and state tax revenue to Petersburg and the entire Tri-Cities region. The average income for a Petersburg resident is about $26,000 per year. This project will bring over 4,000 new jobs, with an average wage of $60,000, plus benefits. $60,000 offers city residents the dignity of a living wage on which they can support their families. For too many of our residents who are battling generational poverty, long-term financial security is elusive and seems out of reach. This project will offer the types of good-paying opportunities that can lead to careers and not just jobs that barely make ends meet.

It is the right time because our residents desperately need the help and hope. To our elected leaders in the General Assembly, please do not turn your backs on Petersburg. Petersburg’s cycle of poverty is deeply embedded throughout our city. Many of our citizens have lost hope. For Petersburg’s long-struggling families, please do not ask them to wait. If you have the chance to help them right now, why not act?

Many of our citizens have lost hope. For Petersburg’s long-struggling families, please do not ask them to wait. If you have the chance to help them right now, why not act? — THE TAYLORS

Now is the time to act, not to wait or pause. Why? For the same reason that a doctor would not tell a critically ill patient to wait for life-saving medication or treatment. For the single mom, or the family relying on outside assistance for food and basic shelter, is waiting another year, or several years, the message we want to deliver? Our elected leaders in the General Assembly have the power to make a difference for Petersburg and deliver a solution today, not tomorrow.

The Commonwealth already has made a policy decision to permit gaming. Thus far, Virginia has opened two casinos, at opposite ends of the state. A casino in Petersburg will not detract from the success of either of those projects (or any others), both of which have gotten off to strong starts.

We support the partner our city has selected. Cordish has a long track record of experience, with over a century of success. They have developed and operated casinos throughout the US. More importantly for Petersburg, the core of their business is urban revitalization. Their projects have transformed major cities across the country – from Kansas City to St. Louis and Arlington, Texas. Cordish has earned numerous prestigious national awards for their work. They are recognized as an industry leader that delivers on their commitments. For Petersburg, a casino is just one part of a multi-phase project. It would be a $1.4 billion investment — over three times the size of the $300 million projected investment described in the JLARC report — of private sector dollars that would include housing, retail, dining, and other entertainment amenities.

We want Central Virginia to thrive and be a place of hope and economic opportunity in each of our jurisdictions. Giving Petersburg residents a chance to vote now is not pitting one locality against another. Richmond is our state capital and the region’s vibrant center of culture and entertainment. The cranes dotting the skyline are visible signs of this prosperity. Richmond held a referendum, and Richmond voters said no to a casino. Over many months, Richmond residents were given full and complete information on what a casino could mean for their community. Millions of dollars were spent to make sure Richmond residents made an informed decision. Once again, the people of Richmond voted ‘no’ to a casino.

We live in a time and era when our democracy is under threat. Now, more than ever, our cherished democratic values need to be protected and preserved for future generations, our children, and grandchildren. The right to vote and respecting the will of the voters are the bedrock of our democracy. Do we want to send the message to our young people that it is acceptable to disregard or dispute the outcome of a free and fair election if we are not satisfied with the result?

We hope the General Assembly will give Petersburg an opportunity to vote on this project that could bring an historic level of investment and financial sustainability to our city. This is an opportunity of a lifetime for our residents. Please trust us and let our voters decide if this is the right opportunity for Petersburg.

Col. (Ret.) Porcher L Taylor Jr. and Ann Cannon Taylor are longtime Petersburg residents. The above content is their own opinion and does not reflect the position of The Progress-Index or its parent, Gannett Co. Inc.

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