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Former governor makes plea to City Council
Wilder makes pitch for tax exemption

 Former governor of Virginia and current mayor of Richmond Doug Wilder addresses the Fredericksburg City Council regarding a real estate tax exemption for the National Slavery Museum.
PETER CIHELKA/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 6/11/2008

BY EMILY BATTLE

Former Governor and Richmond Mayor Douglas Wilder came to Fredericksburg last night to ask the City Council to make the 38 acres in Celebrate Virginia on which he hopes to build his proposed United States National Slavery Museum exempt from city real estate taxes.

The exemption would cost the city $42,745 a year. It would be valid for three years.

"I know cities need money," Wilder said at the beginning of his remarks to the council.

He went on to say that the country needs his proposed museum to accurately and completely tell the story of slavery in America and said the tax exemption would help the museum get built faster.

"Either you want the museum here or you don't," Wilder said. "Clearly, paying the kinds of monies we would have to pay [in real estate taxes] wouldn't help us in that direction."

In a June 4 letter to the city asking for the exemption, museum Executive Director Vonita Foster wrote that the museum hopes to start construction within a year if the exemption is granted.

Foster asked that the exemption be retroactive to 2002.

But last night, Wilder didn't want to make any promises about when construction might start.

"I can't guarantee that we will open anything this year. I can't guarantee we will build anything," Wilder said. "But I will guarantee you between now and the next time we speak that you will see something going up on that site."

He acknowledged that his time commitments as Richmond's mayor have made it hard for him to make progress toward the museum's $200 million fundraising goal.

The museum's most recent tax return listed assets of $17.7 million, but nearly all of it--roughly $17.4 million--is the value of the land, which was donated by the Silver Cos.

The land is assessed on the city books at $7.6 million.

"All we need to build is money," Wilder said.

He said previous corporate pledges have been cut as the economy has suffered. He said the city's tax exemption could help keep the project moving.

"I don't believe anybody's going to go broke because of it," Wilder said. "If we are successful, just consider what those revenues are going to look like."


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Fredericksburg passed an ordinance in 2004 that set up the process it uses to decide whether qualifying nonprofit groups get real estate tax exemptions. Exemptions are granted for three years at a time.

The Fredericksburg Area Museum was the only group that got an exemption in 2004, so it's the first to come up for a renewal. Here is a list of the groups that have received exemptions since then, and the amount of annual taxes they're exempt from paying.

Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center-- $8,872 (the museum is seeking a renewal of this exemption)

Thurman Brisben Homeless Shelter--$5,256

Fredericksburg Area HIV/AIDS Support Services-- $1,685

Mayfield Civic Association --$1,507

Friends of the Rappahannock--$1,959