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New York City architectural firm has $5 million judgment against U.S. National Slavery Museum.

Date published: 8/17/2011


A New York City-based architectural firm is owed more than $5 million from the U.S. National Slavery Museum, but it's unclear whether the firm will be able to collect any of it.

A New York court awarded Pei Partnership Architects about $5.17 million in its lawsuit against the National Slavery Museum in April 2010, according to a judgment filed in Fredericksburg Circuit Court. Company principal C.C. Pei, a son of the famous architect I.M. Pei, designed the museum.

The museum was supposed to have been built on 38 acres of Celebrate Virginia South. It opened a Spirit of Freedom Exhibit Garden on the site in 2007 but never started construction of a building.

The museum, which was founded by former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, owes the city more than $215,000 in back taxes and interest. The city has begun the process of selling the land at auction to recoup the taxes.

Pei Partnership Architects could get some of the $5.17 million judgment (which may be more than that now due to accumulated interest) in the tax sale, but the firm won't be first in line.

The sale proceeds would first go to the city for back taxes, interest and other costs associated with the auction, according to John A. Rife, a partner with Taxing Authority Consulting Services, the Richmond law firm representing the city. Pei Partnership Architects and other creditors may be entitled to any funds that remain after the taxes are paid.

The auction, which likely won't occur for another five months or so, probably won't fetch much more than the amount owed in city taxes, said Jud Honaker, president of commercial development for Celebrate Virginia developer the Silver Cos. He added that it's difficult to predict auction results.

The price could be kept down by restrictions placed on the property when the development's major landholder, Celebrate Virginia South LLC, gave the land to the Slavery Museum in 2002. Those restrictions state that the 38-acre site can be used only for an "African-American heritage museum" or for "charitable, educational or public purposes."

The Silver Cos. can take the restrictions off the property, but nobody else can. That significantly narrows the pool of potential bidders, as the buyer would have to receive permission from Silver for any use that falls outside the restrictions.

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