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Council blesses Wilder deal, but adds provisos
The Fredericksburg City Council unanimously supports a slavery museum in the city--with strings attached.

 Mayor Bill Beck (left) discusses Tuesday night's City Council agenda with Vice Mayor Gordon Shelton and Councilmen Joe Wilson and Ambrose Bailey. After hours of heated testimony and debate, the council voted at 1:15 a.m. yesterday to approve the slavery museum.
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Date published: 8/16/2001

Slavery museum OK'd In a surprising display of unanimity, the Fredericksburg City Council voted early yesterday morning to support--with strings attached--former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder's proposed slavery museum if he puts it in the city.

The city's $1 million contribution to the project is contingent upon a public presentation on plans for the museum and a final council vote.

The city's money would be repaid through the creation of a special tax district in the Celebrate Virginia development, where Silver Cos. Chief Executive Officer Larry Silver has promised to donate 20 to 25 acres of land for the museum.

Councilman Joe Wilson, who made the motion, called it a compromise.

"It's not going to make anybody happy," he said. "But somehow or another we need to send the man a sign that we are definitely interested in his museum."

Wilder, grandson of slaves, has been pursuing his vision of a slavery museum since 1993. He is the head of the proposed facility's Richmond-based board of trustees.

The former governor made a presentation on the proposed museum last Thursday in a closed-door meeting with the council and several local business and community leaders.

During that meeting, Silver distributed a letter to the council asking for the $1 million incentive.

Wilder agreed yesterday morning to make another trip to Fredericksburg for a public presentation, City Manager Marvin Bolinger said, although no date has been set.

Bolinger said he told Wilder about the action taken by the council but declined to comment on Wilder's reaction.

"I was pleased with the conversation. I think we communicated," he said.

Councilman Scott Howson told the council yesterday morning that he wanted more details about Wilder's museum--including a list of the board of directors and a financial plan--before he committed taxpayers' money to the project.

"This is the same information we would require before approving even a $500 contribution to a nonprofit organization here in town," he said.

Howson moved to find out more details before making a financial commitment. After his motion failed, he decided to back Wilson's approach.

Wilder has said that Hampton, Richmond and Fredericksburg are the final three cities being considered for the Virginia slavery museum.

But the Fredericksburg City Council is the only board that has received a formal presentation from Wilder.

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