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SALE NEXT FOR SITE OF SLAVERY MUSEUM
As tax deadline passes, Fredericksburg officials take steps to sell property for National Slavery Museum.

 Weeds have overtaken sculptures at the slavery museum site in Celebrate Virginia. Museum officials owe back taxes on the property.
SUZANNE CARR ROSSI/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 8/16/2011

BY ROBYN SIDERSKY

Fredericksburg plans to begin seeking a buyer this week for land where the U.S. National Slavery Museum was supposed to be built.

But officials say it could take as long as six months before any sale could be completed.

Saturday's deadline for museum officials to pay more than $215,000 in back taxes passed with no action.

"I wasn't expecting anything, but nothing happened," said city Treasurer G.M. Haney.

Haney said the law firm representing the city, Taxing Authority Consulting Services PC, will place an ad in The Free Lance-Star in the next few days notifying the public of the sale. He said the sale must be approved by the Circuit Court.

If museum officials pay the taxes, however--which they are allowed to do right up until the minute of the sale--the process stops and the museum retains ownership of the property.

Although the court could set an expedited schedule, Haney isn't expecting the process to move quickly.

"It will probably be four or five months before it's finished, maybe six," he said.

The Silver Cos. donated 38 acres of land in Celebrate Virginia for the museum in 2002. The museum opened a Spirit of Freedom Exhibit Garden on the site in 2007 but never started construction of a building.

On July 13, the city sent a letter to former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, the founder of the museum, and to the museum's registered agent notifying them that the land would go up for sale if the taxes weren't paid within a month.

Neither Wilder nor the museum's registered agent responded to the city, Haney said. The Free Lance-Star was unable yesterday to reach Wilder or the agent, George Keith Martin of the Richmond-based law firm McGuire Woods.

The property is valued at $7.6 million, according to a 2009 city assessment of the land for tax purposes.

Deed restrictions limit the land's use to an African-American heritage museum of at least 125,000 square feet or for "charitable, educational or public purposes and related uses."

Haney said the restrictions could potentially be taken off the property, but that would be up to the Silver Cos., which placed the restrictions.

On Jan. 1, the land became eligible to be sold by the city because of the unpaid taxes.

Wilder wrote a blog post in February that was sent to several media outlets. It said he and the museum's directors "look forward to a return to aggressive fundraising in the near future for what we know must be a leaner project."

However, the museum is no longer allowed to raise funds. Its registration to solicit charitable contributions in Virginia expired in May 2008, and there has been no action since to renew it.

Once the property is sold, the taxes will be paid from proceeds of the sale.

Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413
Email: rsidersky@freelancestar.com