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Museum gift nearly paid back
Slavery Museum gift close to being paid back by Celebrate Virginia property owners

 A model of the slavery museum planned for Celebrate Virginia, with the Rappahannock River and Interstate 95 behind it. The city should recoup all of the $1 million it gave the museum by May.
FILE/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
Visit the Photo Place
Date published: 1/28/2007

By EMILY BATTLE

A $1 million gift that Fredericksburg made to the U.S. National Slavery Museum in 2002 is close to being paid back, with interest, by landowners in a special tax district around the proposed museum.

In May, the property owners in that tax district will make what will probably be their last payment into a fund set up to recoup the money that went to the museum.

Since fall of 2002, those property owners have basically been paying two different real-estate taxes. They've paid the 89 cents per $100 of assessed value that is levied citywide, and they've paid an extra $1.18 per $100 of value toward the special tax district.

The district does not include the museum, which is exempt from real-estate taxes.

City Manager Phillip Rodenberg said last week that the city should drop that extra tax rate down to 48 cents per $100 of value for the payment due in May so the district does not collect more than the city is owed--the initial $1 million, plus $128,058 in interest.

He said the council should get rid of the tax district once the full sum is paid back, which would be this spring.

Those actions will require a public hearing before City Council. They would bring an end to one part of a story that has caused controversy in City Hall over the years.

Five years ago, the gift prompted a lively public hearing before the City Council before it was approved.

Last fall, council members debated whether the museum had followed the terms of the agreement that went along with the gift, which required the museum to spend the money on "governmental services" for the entire Celebrate Virginia tourism district, and not on things that would benefit only the museum.

The slavery museum is to be built on 38 acres in the Celebrate Virginia tourism complex in the city. The 290,000-square-foot facility is scheduled to open by 2008, but museum officials have promised some kind of "soft opening" this year.

To reach EMILY BATTLE:540/374-5413
Email: ebattle@freelancestar.com


Where did the money go?

The museum had spent the city's $1 million grant by the fall of 2005. Last fall, City Council members debated whether the expenditures really constituted "governmental services." Here's where the money went:

$547,760 paid administrative and office expenses, including everything from phone bills to paying 11 staff members in the museum's Fredericksburg offices.

$182,623 went into "educational projects," including collaboration with teachers, exhibits at the University of Mary Washington and local public libraries and work on the museum's Web site.

$259,521 went toward a traffic study of the entrance to the museum, along with various preliminary plans, environmental assessments and other studies in preparation for the project.

$10,094 was paid for marketing, demographic and economic impact studies.