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Slavery museum's opening is delayed
Fredericksburg Planning Commission considers U.S. National Slavery Museum request for height variance

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Date published: 6/9/2005

A U.S. National Slavery Museum official announced last night that the facility's opening will be delayed by at least eight months.

The revelation came in response to a question from a Fredericksburg planning commissioner during a public hearing at which the museum requested a variance in the height allowed for the structure.

"We're shooting for October 2007," Executive Director Vonita Foster replied when asked to review the time frame for the project's completion. She said the delay is being caused by exhibit designs and construction designs.

Foster said work on the museum's foundation should start in September or October of this year.

Museum officials want to build a museum with a maximum height of 150 feet. The variance asks only for approval for about 29 additional feet because it is calculated based on the museum atrium's average maximum height, said Raymond Ocel, the city's director of planning and community development.

The museum, designed by Chien Chung Pei of Pei Architects of New York, peaks at the top of the mast of the replica slave ship that will be the signature feature of the museum. It slopes downward from there. Apart from the glass atrium that covers the replica of the 118-foot-tall Dos Amigos, the museum's height is below the maximum 90 feet allowed for the zoning district in which the museum is to be built.

The museum site is within the city's Planned Development Commercial zoning district, which applies only to Celebrate Virginia South and Central Park.

The museum site is a 38-acre parcel within the Celebrate Virginia South tourism complex under development by The Silver Cos. The site is visible from southbound Interstate 95, just above a quarry and the Rappahannock River.

Museum officials had said the 250,000-square-foot structure would open in February 2007.

Architect Pei told commissioners he considered other options in designing the U.S. National Slavery Museum, but any option that altered the slave ship to meet the 90-foot height limit diminished the impact of the story the museum seeks to tell.

"That experience is absolutely fundamental to understanding the story of slavery," said Pei, who was one of six people representing the museum at last night's public hearing.

Two citizens spoke last night.


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