Richmond’s Robert E. Lee Monument Coming Down, as Black-Owned Casino Could Go Up

By | September 7, 2021

The Robert E. Lee Memorial has been the focal point of Monumental Avenue for more than 130 years. Tomorrow, September 8, 2021, the controversial statue is slated to be removed.

Richmond casino Robert E. Lee Monument Virginia
Richmond resident Brian Grogan photographs the Robert E. Lee Memorial on September 6, 2021. The Confederate shrine is scheduled to come down tomorrow in the Virginia capital city. (Image: USA TODAY)

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said that following the conclusion of several lawsuits challenging the monument’s removal in favor of the state, the shrine to the Civil War general will come down.

Virginia’s largest monument to the Confederate insurrection will come down this week,” Northam declared yesterday. “This is an important step in showing who we are and what we value as a commonwealth.”

The son of a Revolutionary War officer, Lee graduated from the United States Military Academy and became known as a skilled wartime tactician. He served the Confederate States Army as general and led the Army of Northern Virginia — the Confederates’ primary military force — from 1862 until its surrender in 1985.

Richmond served as the Confederate capital during the Civil War.

Changing Attitudes, Complex History

For some Southerners, Confederate statues serve as symbols of Southern efforts in the war. But those who support ridding tributes to Confederacy leaders say the memorials “represent a particular white supremacist and mythologized version of Southern heritage — and have never accurately reflected the complex history of the region,” according to the Washington Post. Allowing the erections to remain standing could further promote those sentiments, critics argue.

It’s a divisive issue, but the Robert E. Lee removal marks a monumental moment in the city’s history. And it coincides with one of the largest investment proposals in recent memory in Richmond — a $600 million casino resort — coming from a black-owned conglomerate.

For many Richmonders, the two developments mark a significant step forward in promoting diversity and separating the city from its Civil War past. But city leaders say much more must be done.

In July, the Richmond City Council unanimously passed a resolution that declares racism a public health crisis. The motion implements new anti-racism laws and policies, and encourages lawmakers to promote regulations that encourage new minority-owned enterprises.

Racial Tensions

The Robert E. Lee Memorial has been a subject of contention for many years. The Confederate tribute became the site of large protests following the May 2020 murder of George Floyd at the knee of then-Minneapolis Police Department officer Derek Chauvin.

Richmond is one of five cities under a casino bill Northam signed last year that qualifies to host a casino resort. With much interest, Richmond — unlike the four other cities that held successful casino ballot referendums in November 2020 authorizing commercial gambling — opted to wait a year.

City officials fielded numerous resort pitches from interested casino operators and developers. A $600 million bid from The Cordish Companies targeting the affluent Scott’s Addition neighborhood generated racial undertones when flyers opposing the casino were distributed throughout the neighborhood.

Tell them to build it over there,” read one part of the campaign materials. The flyer caused controversy and backlash, as critics suggested that the “over there” referred to poorer areas of Richmond.

Richmond eventually went with a casino undertaking proposed by Urban One, a media conglomerate that comes with the slogan, “Representing Black America.”

Diverse Ownership

On November 2, if a simple majority of Richmond city voters back the Urban One presentation, the $600 million project will be cleared for construction. Urban One’s casino — called ONE Casino + Resort — entails a large list of diverse local investors who would have minority stakes in the entertainment destination upon voter approval.

Urban One says its casino would require 3,000 construction workers, and result in 1,500 permanent operating positions. The current blueprint suggests a gaming space measuring 100,000 square feet with 1,800 slot machines and 100 table games, plus a sportsbook.

The casino resort, targeting vacant land near Philip Morris, would additionally feature a four-star hotel with 250 rooms, a concert, and entertainment theater operated by Live Nation, 12 restaurants, 55 acres of green space, and on-site radio and television production studios.

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