The big bet: A nod to Danville’s textile past, the casino weaves the city’s history into a transformation project | Business premises

JOHN R. CRANE Danville Registry & Bee

On the day in May 2020 that Danville officials announced they were in negotiations with Paradise, Nevada-based Caesars Entertainment, Mayor Alonzo Jones needed only a few words to sum up his mood.

“I wish you could all see the smile on my face,” Jones, wearing a mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, told a crowd gathered at the site of Dan River Inc.’s former finishing building in Schoolfield. .

For Danville, a Caesars Virginia casino has been a long time coming. Now the city – with roots woven into textile manufacturing – is poised to transform into a tourist destination.

How we got here

It was in December 2018 when the State Del. Danny Marshall, R-Danville, approached city officials about the possibility that the Virginia General Assembly is considering allowing certain cities to hold a referendum on casinos.

In January 2019, legislation allowing casino gambling in Virginia was introduced in the General Assembly. But that was on condition that the idea was approved by voters in a local referendum.

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In March 2020, the Virginia House and Senate approved legislation allowing five cities in Virginia – Danville, Bristol, Norfolk, Portsmouth, and Richmond – to hold local referendums on whether to allow a casino to operate in those cities. .

In the first week of March 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic triggered a chain of stay-at-home orders and shuttered businesses across the country, Danville officials heard closed-door presentations from four casino companies, finalists who responded to a Dec. 2019 request for proposals to bring a gaming establishment here.

Under the terms of this request for proposals, potential operators had to choose a possible casino location for the White Mill property or in Schoolfield, two former iconic textile sites of Dan River Inc. Each applicant could also choose another site in the city.

Caesars was the leading contender among four finalists — seven originally responded to the city’s request for proposals released in December 2019 — hoping to bring a casino to Danville. City officials and a company representative announced at this event at the Schoolfield site on May 18, 2020 that Danville executives were in negotiations with Caesars Entertainment for a possible project there.

Officials, banking on expected voter approval, believed a casino development in Schoolfield — the property that included Dan River Inc.’s former finishing building — would bring more traffic to that part of town and attract additional companies.

Jacqueline Grace, Vice President and Assistant General Manager of the Horseshoe Baltimore Resort in Maryland, part of Caesars Entertainment, spoke at the May 2020 announcement.

“We’re going to build an amazing project,” she told the crowd.

Caesars Entertainment resorts operate under the Caesars, Harrah’s and Horseshoe brands.

Danville City Manager Ken Larking told the crowd that the project would bring Danville $34 million in annual revenue. Of that, more than $30 million would come from gambling taxes and additional payments to the city, and $4 million would come from taxes on real estate, meals, sales, and lodging.

Additionally, Caesars’ proposal included at least $20 million in upfront payments to the city to cover land acquisition and other public investments.

Danville City Council officially selected Caesars Entertainment as the city’s casino provider in June 2020.

Schoolfield is significant as one of the largest textile mill villages in Virginia and the South. The village was founded as an independent company town in 1903 by Dan River Inc., which owned all of the houses and other buildings in the town. The town of Danville annexed Schoolfield in 1951.

The Schoolfield industrial site covers approximately 85 acres and approximately 700,000 square feet of structures, including the former 617,000 square foot finishing plant, visible from West Main Street in Schoolfield.

Voters say yes

On November 3, 2020, town voters decided to roll the dice and approve a casino in Danville.

Caesars, which bought the Dan River Inc. property in Schoolfield where it plans to open in 2023, originally planned to create 1,300 jobs and invest $400 million in the project.

The casino would include several restaurants and bars, a 300-room four-star hotel, a 35,000 square foot conference center, a 2,500-seat live entertainment venue, a swimming pool and a spa. It would also have 2,000 slot machines, 75 table games, 16 poker tables and a bookmaker to bet on various sports competitions.

In August, casino officials announced that the scope of the project would expand.

The original project’s price tag of $400 million would be more than $100 million higher, a senior vice president at Caesars Entertainment said.

“We’re going to be north of $500 million,” Robert Livingston told about 75 community members at a public consultation meeting Aug. 23 at the former Dan River Inc. social building on West Main. Street.

Also, the estimated number of hotel rooms should be 500 instead of 300, he said.

Caesars Virginia Senior Design and Construction Manager Mark Schlang told attendees that the three prominent chimneys at the former Dan River Inc. site in Schoolfield will become an iconic part of the project.

The chimneys – known as “Three Sisters” – will anchor the entertainment forum to the casino, he said. Caesars will also add more towers.

Several restaurants, a brasserie and a sports bar will also be part of the complex, said Schlang, who also mentioned celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsey.

Plus, “there will also be a Starbucks somewhere,” he said of the casino project.

There will also be an outdoor swimming pool and a 1,200-space garage, Schlang added. Other features could include fire pits, hot tubs, a spa and a VIP area, he said.

A common design element will be brick red, with lighter tonal colors and elements, a nod to the history of textiles.

And after

The conceptual design for the project has been completed, with work underway on schematic designs that include determining the articulation of project elements, Livingston said.

“The architecture is well on its way to blending Caesars with the community’s rich history,” he said.

Casino visitors can expect to see a pedestrian entrance and a secondary car entrance from West Main Street, Schlang said.

In September, architectural renderings of the future Danville Casino were unveiled in a ceremony at the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research.

“It’s a defining moment,” Jones said. “There’s a lot of anticipation and excitement here.”

Jones, other members of the Danville City Council, Marshall and other city and education dignitaries were on hand as representatives from Caesars Entertainment shared slides about the Caesars Virginia project.

Caesars Virginia’s architectural firm was Marnell Companies.

Dave Howryla, President of Architecture at Marnell, explained the exterior and interior renderings of the complex.

“The Three Sisters [three brick smokestacks] are the best elements of the site, and everything is based on them. They will be cleaned up and they will be the focal point,” he said.

The company obtained original images of the brick factory building and based the design of the casino on these. The 18-story hotel has been kept lower than the Three Sisters, and a four-story parking lot is tucked into the grounds to look like two stories.

Rooms at the Caesars-branded hotel are “really modern, clean, and comfortable” and based on the Caesars color scheme.

Demolition began in September to make way for the Caesars Virginia casino, with officials expecting the process to take several months.

Work begins

Work began in early January to prepare for the removal of the old Dan River Inc. finishing building to make way for the casino.

The reduction in hazardous materials was underway for the building and will continue through early March, Livingston told the Danville Register & Bee.

“The structure will then be cleared for removal, with an estimated timeline until early summer,” he said.

Building materials deemed suitable will be crushed and reused on site where possible, with some bricks to be recycled and used in landscaped areas, he said.

Caesars Virginia launched a request for proposals for the construction of its next casino and resort in December. The aim is to mobilize the contractor on site in the spring, with construction of the new buildings, including the hotel towers, to start soon after.

The date of the first pickaxe, which had still not taken place in mid-March, for the construction of the casino will depend on the general contractor and the weather.

The demolition of the finishing building will not slow down the project.

“Construction will begin in other areas of the site, so debris removal and crushing will occur simultaneously with new construction,” Livingston said.

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