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No decision: Wilder awaits consultant report on location for slavery museum
Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder calls Fredericksburg offer 'more finite' than others, but says he has no favorite for slavery museum site.

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Date published: 8/23/2001

RICHMOND--Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder said yesterday that Fredericksburg has the strongest proposal for a national slavery museum on the table now, but he has not decided on a site.

Richmond, Hampton and Petersburg are also interested in the museum. Wilder would not say whether one has emerged as the favorite.

"The more finite proposal is the one in Fredericksburg--to the extent that the land has been designated, segregated and identified," he said.

Silver Cos. Chief Executive Officer Larry Silver has promised to donate 20 to 25 acres for the museum in his Celebrate Virginia development. He values that offer at $10 million to $12 million.

The Fredericksburg City Council has tentatively pledged $1 million toward the project if Wilder chooses the city. Richmond has offered Wilder a $1.5 million incentive package, including land along the James River.

Fredericksburg's $1 million pledge is contingent on a public presentation from Wilder or another representative of the museum. Wilder said yesterday he will make a presentation, although no date has been set.

"The people in Fredericksburg, they want to hear what we're talking about here today," he said. "I have no problem with that."

Michael Neiditch, a consultant to the museum and a former official at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, said financial incentives offered by the localities "play really no role" in the site-selection process. He said the museum board is considering several criteria, the most important of which is proximity to an interstate highway and airports.

Other factors Neiditch listed are the site's "dignity," its proximity to other historic attractions, its ability to accommodate ample parking and storage facilities, and its potential for growth.

Wilder's news conference at Virginia Commonwealth University was his first public comment on the museum since the Fredericksburg council tentatively approved the cash incentive last week. He met with the council Aug. 9 in a closed-door session to discuss his plans.

"I wasn't ever silent--I was just unavailable," the former governor said.

Richmond offered its incentive package five days after the closed-door session in Fredericksburg, but Wilder said he was not trying to start a bidding war.

"I never interpreted [Richmond's commitment] as a cash incentive and never considered this as a response to the Fredericksburg council action," he said.

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