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Slavery museum faces deadline
Slavery museum requests extension of construction deadline

 L. Douglas Wilder speaks at a private reception for the museum at the Warner Theatre in Washington in 2006.
Brian Price/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Date published: 5/25/2008

The U.S. National Slavery Museum has asked Fredericksburg officials for a one-year extension of the deadline for beginning construction on the facility.

The museum currently has until Aug. 1 to start building under a special-use permit approved by the City Council two years ago.

The permit was requested because the proposed museum's design calls for a height that exceeds normal limits for that portion of the city. The extra height is to accommodate the mast of a replica slave ship planned as the museum's centerpiece.

Vonita W. Foster, executive director for the museum, sent her request to the city Planning Department on May 16, the same day museum founder L. Douglas Wilder announced he would not seek re-election as Richmond mayor.

Wilder's term expires at the end of the year. The Free Lance-Star requested an interview last week with Wilder, but his press secretary said he was unavailable for the rest of the week.

The newspaper had asked to speak to Wilder about whether he plans to devote all or some of his time to the museum once he finishes his term and whether he still plans to build a visitors center on the museum land by year's end, as he told The New York Times in March.

Wilder, the nation's first black governor and the grandson of slaves, was inspired to build the museum during a trip to Goree Island in West Africa while governor.

In 2001, he chose Fredericksburg as the site for the museum. It is to be built on a 38-acre tract overlooking the Rappahannock River and within the Celebrate Virginia tourism and retail development. The Silver Cos., the developer of Celebrate Virginia, donated the land.

Construction on the museum has not begun and no application for a building permit or site work had been filed as of Friday, according to city officials.

The request for an extension of the special-use permit deadline must be considered by the Planning Com-mission. Its recommendation goes to the City Council for a final decision.

Planning Director Ray Ocel estimated it would take more than a month for the process to run its course.

Pamela Gould: 540/735-1972
Email: pgould@freelancestar.com