Emails obtained by the Danville Register & Bee show city leaders scrambling to put together the May 18 event announcing negotiations with Caesars Entertainment following a two-page Sunday ad in the newspaper pushing for support of a casino at the White Mill site.
The very day the ad — placed by Peninsula Pacific Entertainment and The Alexander Company — ran on May 17, city officials began moving quickly to arrange the announcement of their preference for a casino by Caesars Entertainment at the Schoolfield site on West Main Street. They also had to let the public know of the announcement, held the following Monday, ahead of time
"It was certainly rushed," City Manager Ken Larking told the Register & Bee on Tuesday. "Ideally, we don't rush these sorts of things on Sundays."
The announcement would have come at a later date, sometime before June 1, if the ad had not appeared, Larking said.
June 1 was the earliest date for the city to get the application to the Virginia Lottery Board for Danville's preferred casino gaming operator.
The city sent the application to the state nearly two weeks ago, Larking said.
Richmond-headquartered Peninsula Pacific Entertainment and Madison, Wisconsin-based The Alexander Company, which is looking to purchase the White Mill property, wanted residents to push Danville City Council members to support a casino project at the former Dan River Inc. site.
Peninsula Pacific and The Alexander Company placed an ad spanning two pages in the May 17 Danville Register & Bee saying they were the best candidate for a casino project in the city and warning readers of a "real possibility that out-of-state interests could take control and supplant our project in favor of a 'big box' casino in another part of town."
The ad was published just two days before city voters cast their ballots in the Danville City Council election. It also came as city leaders were in the process of selecting a company that would bring a casino to Danville if voters approve one in November.
According to emails received by the Register & Bee following a Freedom of Information Act request, a representative with The Alexander Company notified the city's interim director of economic development Corrie Bobe of the ad ahead of time.
"Corrie told me she learned from Dave Vos of the Alexander Company that there will be a large advertisement in the Sunday paper encouraging people to support the White Mill for a casino," Larking wrote in an email to members of Danville City Council on Saturday night, May 16, before the ad ran the next day. "According to Corrie, Dave was apologetic about this."
One councilman expressed disappointment when he learned the ad would appear.
"Unfortunate ... intended to divide our citizens," Councilman Fred Shanks responded to Larking the following Sunday morning.
Vos, development project manager with the company, would not say why they placed the ad or why he was apologetic about it when reached Tuesday.
"I just don't have any comment on it at this time," Vos said.
Joe Alexander, president of The Alexander Company, said in a prepared statement to the Danville Register & Bee that the company's action was not unusual.
"In a competitive proposal process, it isn't uncommon for a development team to engage with the public to generate awareness and foster support for a proposal, nor to encourage the community to contact their elected representatives in support," Alexander said. "At the time the ad was placed our team believed a possibility remained that the White Mill site could still be selected and that no agreement had been reached with any of the potential operators. Out of respect for our relationship with Danville’s city staff, we provided an advance notice of the ad."
The company has a purchase option agreement with the city for the White Mill, which expires March 3, 2021.
"We remain very much interested in finding a mixed-use path for the redevelopment of the White Mill that could provide quality workforce housing and champion the revitalization of the River District and the proposed Riverfront Park," he said.
As for the rushed announcement for Caesars, Bobe emailed an invitation for it to city officials just after 6 p.m. Sunday, May 17. She also asked that it be posted on the city's social media pages that night.
An agenda for the announcement, talking points for the Caesars project and a press release were written up and being edited later that Sunday night, with editing being done into Monday morning.
City and Caesars officials made the announcement the day after the ad ran because they wanted to let the public know the city's intentions, Larking said.
"We wanted to make sure the public had the right information about what we were doing and our thought processes behind that," Larking said. "It was just important to quickly get the information out to the public that had the correct information about where we stood."
Caesars was the lead contender from among four finalists — seven companies had initially responded to the city's request for proposals issued in December — hoping to bring a casino resort to Danville.
A casino development at Schoolfield — the property that currently includes the former Dan River Inc. finishing building — would bring more traffic to that part of the city and attract additional businesses, officials have said.
If voters approve a casino in Danville, Caesars would be expected to invest more than $400 million and create 1,300 jobs with competitive benefits packages and average pay between $35,000 and $47,000 annually, officials announced May 18 at the Schoolfield site.
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.