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Museum plans touted
National Slavery Museum holds groundbreaking; additional details of venture divulged

 Tony Williams of Richmond (left) and Dale Sander, superintendent of Fredericksburg City Schools,
listen to speakers during yesterday's ceremony for the National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg.

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Date published: 12/4/2003

By ELIZABETH PEZZULLO

It was billed as a groundbreaking, though no ground was to be found.

But that didn't stop former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder from boasting that plans for the National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg are moving at a steady clip.

Instead of asking people to schlep out to the proposed museum site overlooking the Rappahannock River, Wilder held the symbolic groundbreaking downtown, in the elegant Fleming-Smith Room at Kenmore Plantation & Gardens.

"I don't think you'd like to be walking around the site this morning," Wilder said, referring to the cold, windy weather. "It wouldn't be the same as this nice, warm place."

Wilder told a gathering of museum enthusiasts, local government officials and journalists that construction will begin in October of next year and the museum will open in 2007.

Museum officials are working with architect Chien Chung Pei, son of I.M. Pei, designer of the National Gallery of Art's East Building on the National Mall in Washington and other famed structures. Chien Chung Pei attended yesterday's symbolic groundbreaking.

Pei, a member of Pei Partnership Architects of New York City, said he's working with museum officials on a design that will reverently capture the museum's essence.

"This project has to have its own life," Pei said. "It goes way beyond the walls of the building. The project is about dignity."

Behind Pei was an early rendering he did of the proposed museum.

The slick steel-and-glass design resembles other Pei-family projects.

But Pei said he is still planning the "program'' for the museum, covering exhibit space and design.

"The best buildings emerge from active involvement from the client," Pei said. "And in this case, from the public."

In 2002, Wilder chose Fredericksburg as the site for the museum, which could cost between $100 million and $200 million.

The Silver Cos., Fredericksburg-based developers of the Celebrate Virginia tourism complex, donated 38 acres at the site for the proposed museum.

In March of that year, museum officials signed a loan agreement with the city for $1 million.

The city's money, which is to be used to benefit the entire Celebrate Virginia project and not spent on the creation of the museum, will be paid back through a special tax on landowners in the development.


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