Today’s rather amusing Manassas Journal-Messenger article on the Rack & Roll scandal tiptoes towards the question of the degree to which referenda in 1996 and 2004 on whether to allow Colonial Downs to operate an off-track betting facility in Manassas Park might figure into this strange tale. Predictably, a host of public officials assert that this a bizarre fantasy, just as they asserted that the consistent pattern of well-documented official abuse directed at Dave Ruttenberg is simply a case of the consequences of Dave’s business decisions, somehow. I’ve dug into this story enough to understand just how desperate a smokescreen this all really is, and now that public officials are on record on this question, it’s time to confront these outrageous statements.
During the first referendum Colonial Downs clearly didn’t understand Manassas Park or have a lot of good contacts in the city. Their plan at the time seems to have been to locate their facility at “parcel O”, near where the Town Center project is currently being developed and the current site of Yappie Cuttery, a small location sure to create a firestorm from adjacent homeowners, one which would require a rezoning, has no through-traffic, and which would require significant road upgrades in order to deal with the traffic that would be generated. Dave Ruttenberg had a better idea, to use the Manassas Park Shopping Center. It works much better as a location, would be a by-right zoning, and already has the road infrastructure in place. Colonial Downs thought so much of the assistance Dave Ruttenberg and a few other businessmen could bring, they agreed to sign a deal (pdf file) to secure that help in return for over five million dollars, which would be executed as soon as the referendum passed. That put Dave Ruttenberg in the driver’s seat for the biggest commercial real estate redevlopment project Manassas Park had ever seen, provided the referendum was successful.
But that referendum failed, and by only 74 votes. In 2003 Colonial Downs came back for another try, which was only announced a month after the raid at Rack & Roll. This time the local establishment had figured out what a bonanza this could be for them, and went in for their piece of the action. Councilmember Noreen Slater’s son gets a job lobbying on behalf of the referendum. The owner of the incongruously-named “Fat Punks”, who is now on the city council, obtained the food & beverage contract agreement for the facility. There’s more here, which I’ll talk about soon. And then there’s the land deals.
As I’ve related before, the public was told that the betting facility would replace the Capitol Furniture store. The real plan was to demolish the entire shopping center and the adjoining properties on Scott Drive and create a mammoth gambling operation complete with a parking garage, entertainment, restaurants, and whatever gambling operations that Colonial Downs could manage to wrangle. The president of Colonial Downs is on tape admitting to this (listen), and a former planning commissioner for Manassas Park described to me in an interview how he saw the plans. What the voters were told was not what Colonial Downs was planning, and what some city officials were hoping for.
Chief John Evan’s nephew Gary is on record saying that Chief Evans stood to make a lot of money from land deals in Manassas Park sometime before the 2004 referendum. We only have his word on this, as documentation such as the blueprints that were seen in the planning office have mysteriously disappeared and much of the paper trail that should appear in the public record somehow isn’t there. The documentation we do have are generally private agreements between individuals, which relies on them being leaked by insiders. Some of that may be forthcoming in the future, and I am following up several leads which I hope to develop into substantive posts in the near future.
Then there’s “clause fifty one” which had been quietly inserted into the leases of many of the tenants at the Manassas Park Shopping Center, except for the one paying enough attention to have noticed it. Clause fifty one (pdf file) says that if a gambling referendum passes in Manassas Park, the tenant has 90 days to vacate. Not that they may be requested to leave, but that they pack their stuff and get the heck out. If this had only been on the lease for Capitol Furniture, this would have been consistent with the public story. To have this in all of the long-term leases at the property pretty much confirms that whoever was telling the story about this just being a tenant replacement at the furniture store location was deliberately lying to the voters.
Then there’s this curious SEC filing by Jacob’s Entertainment, the legal entity which would operate the betting facility, from 10-K Exhibit 10.7, filed on 3/29/2004:
Page 20-21, of the “Standard Horeman’s Contract”:
E. Efforts in Northern Virginia. Because the parties agree on the importance to Virginia racing of a Northern Virginia [sattelite wagering facility] SWF, they further agree to undertake the following, in consultation with the MVRC and its parent, the Maryland Jockey Club:
(1) Political advance work with local government officials and business leaders in Northern Virginia;
(2) Interest polling in Northern Virginia;
(3) Periodic meetings between the principals of Colonial Downs and MVRC and their respective staffs to discuss and consider the feasibility of referenda and SWF construction in Northern Virginia; and
(4) Not later than January 1, 2004, presenting to the Board of Directors of the VHHA a report by the principals of Colonial Downs and MVRC setting forth the feasibility and cost of referenda and SWF construction in Northern Virginia, including handle estimates for all SWF sites considered by Colonial Downs and MVRC. Such report shall give due consideration to providing meaningful information to the VHHA without jeopardizing the chances for success by premature disclosure of strategic non-public information. (emphasis added)
I suppose there are a number of ways this could be read, but it comes across to me that there was a substantial amount of “strategic non-public information” involved here which, if it became public, would have seriously harmed the chances of the referendum being approved by the voters. Now I think we have an idea about what that information might have been — that the proposed facility was a complete hoax, and the real intent here was to build Northern Virginia’s little Reno. I’ve looked through some other contracts of this type that have been filed, and I can’t seem to find any of them with a clause like this in them. It’s about as unusual as “clause 51″ is in a lease agreement as far as I can tell.
The statements by public officials in the article are entirely devoid of any documented evidence, and in many cases are entirely irrelevant to the issues discussed. Instead they casually dismiss the evidence in hopes that the voters will be dumb enough to accept their contention that the documented harassment, secret agreements, and deliberate misstatements of the truth in support of a gambling referendum never occurred. If voters swallow this whopper, democracy in Manassas Park is truly in grave danger. I’ll give them more credit than this, and am pretty sure they’ll realize who really is suffering from delusion in Manassas Park. It’s the one’s whose names have been appearing on the ballot for so long.
Coming up next: Which city officials were secretly consulting for Colonial Downs in 2004?. Stay tuned.
(Read Part 2)
UPDATE: audio link fixed.
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