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Silver gives to city arts group
Silver makes big gift to local arts group


Date published: 1/3/2008

BY EMILY BATTLE

The Silver Cos. are giving $500,000 to an arts organization led by a man who fought hard against Celebrate Virginia nearly 10 years ago.

Silver announced yesterday that it will give a $500,000 endowment to the Fredericksburg Athenaeum, a nonprofit arts group that owns the Wounded Bookshop on Amelia Street and the Third Floor at 810 Caroline St.

Athenaeum is run by Paul Lewis, who helped found Rappahannock Area Grassroots in 1998.

That group was formed after the City Council approved the rezoning for Celebrate Virginia, and once tried to recall the council members who voted for that rezoning.

A release from the Silver Cos. said the gift came about because Lewis approached the developer shortly after it announced that Wisconsin-based Kalahari Resorts was going to build a waterpark hotel on 49 acres in Celebrate Virginia.

Jud Honaker, president of commercial development for Silver, said the company sees the gift as "an investment in the downtown."

"We've always felt the success of Celebrate Virginia was dependent on the success of downtown," Honaker said.

He said he hopes Athenaeum will use the money to create arts-focused events downtown that will create more activity there in the evenings.

The hope is that those activities will get people downtown after 5 p.m., giving shop owners a reason to keep their businesses open later.

"We consider it a very important part of balancing downtown with this commercial district, and we think the arts community is a very important part of that," Lewis said in a telephone message yesterday.

The gift comes as Silver is in talks with the city about incentives to bring Kalahari to Fredericksburg and a proposed grant to help bolster the Fredericksburg Expo Center's operations.

During the discussions of the Expo Center grant, when City Council members asked Expo owner Tom Ballantine whether he encourages convention attendees to visit downtown, he said he has provided transportation to get them there after conferences let out.

But Ballantine said they have often found most establishments closed by that time.

Mayor Tom Tomzak and Honaker have both said that a transportation link between downtown and Celebrate Virginia will be key to connecting the two very different tourist attractions.

Tom Smith, a member of the Downtown Retail Marketing Inc. merchants' group, agrees.

He said yesterday that he had not heard about the Athenaeum gift, but that Silver had invited him and several other downtown business people to talk about downtown's relationship with Celebrate Virginia over breakfast this morning.

"People downtown want to hear about how all this could potentially impact them," Smith said. "Everybody's in a fact-finding mode right now."

As for what you're likely to see happen as a result of the gift, Lewis hasn't figured that out just yet.

"We are going to spend the next month or two exploring with the arts community how best to use those funds through the Athenaeum," Lewis said. "Not a lot will change in the kind of focus that we've had as an arts catalyst locally."

Emily Battle: 540/374-5413
Email: ebattle@freelancestar.com