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Museum eyes more city funds
City officials are willing to consider additional money for slavery museum, but want more openness about the project.

Date published: 11/18/2005

By PAMELA GOULD

Thanksgiving is just days away, but for the Fredericksburg City Council and U.S. National Slavery Museum, it's starting to look more like July.

Once again, museum officials are talking about asking the city for more financial help for what museum founder L. Douglas Wilder says will be a roughly $100 million structure.

And once again, some council members want more open communication before proceeding with such considerations.

In July, with the same issues on the table, things got so hot that Executive Director Vonita W. Foster abruptly withdrew the museum's request for a waiver of construction fees. Her action, without explanation, sparked speculation that Richmond's new mayor might be pulling his dream project out of Fredericksburg and moving it to the former capital of the Confederacy.

Days later, Foster and Wilder said there were no plans to relocate.

This week, some council members reissued their plea for openness after getting an accountant's report outlining how the museum spent $1 million the city lent it to perform governmental services within the Celebrate Virginia South tax district.

The spring 2002 agreement gave museum officials the money to help move the tourism development along. The funds cannot be used to build the museum itself.

The money is being repaid with interest through a tax on businesses in the district. As of July 1, $281,723.38 had been repaid. Newer data was not available yesterday.

The museum, inspired by then-Gov. Wilder's trip to Goree Island in West Africa, is to be built on 38 acres overlooking the Rappahannock River in the Fredericksburg portion of Celebrate Virginia.

The accounting report sent last week to City Manager Phil Rodenberg meets the requirements of the loan agreement, according to those who have seen it. Still, some council members have questions.

They raised two main issues: the $547,761 spent on office and administrative expenses, and the release of the studies paid for with city money.

The accounting report states that $3,900 was spent on a traffic study; $10,094 on demographic and marketing studies to assess the economic impact of the museum on the community; and $255,621 on preliminary plans, civil engineering plans and environmental and cultural resource assessments.

On Tuesday, spokesman Michael J. Smith said museum officials don't plan to release any of the studies.


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