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Court to decide museum auction
City in process to auction slavery museum land for still-unpaid tax bill

 A sculpture at the former slavery museum site is surrounded by weeds.
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Date published: 12/7/2012


Fredericksburg's officials are moving forward with efforts to sell the U.S. National Slavery Museum's land at Central Park because the museum still has not paid its property taxes to the city.

But the museum's largest creditor wants a judge to first remove restrictions put on the property when it was donated to the museum a decade ago.

The case will get its first hearing in Fredericksburg Circuit Court next Monday.

The museum was founded in Fredericksburg by former Gov. Doug Wilder, but construction never began. It filed for bankruptcy last year to stop the city from selling its 38 acres in Celebrate Virginia for taxes that have gone unpaid since 2008, when the museum essentially ceased operations. At the time of filing for bankruptcy, the museum had about $7 million in debts, and the land was valued at about $7.6 million.

The bankruptcy judge dismissed the case in mid-August, as the museum's lawyer said the museum had reorganized and regained its ability to solicit donations, and promised an anonymous donor was prepared to pay off the city's tax bill "within days."

But no such payment has ever happened, said city treasurer Jim Haney. Haney has said the museum could pay off the tax bill--which was $320,692 as of mid-September--anytime before a gavel falls on an auction.

The city filed documents in Fredericksburg Circuit Court in September to restart proceedings to sell the land.

So far, no response has been filed by Wilder, the museum or any attorney representing either one.

Pei Partnership Architects --which is owed about $5 million by the museum--has filed documents asking the judge to remove restrictive use covenants attached to the land.

When the Silver Cos. donated the land to the museum in 2002, the agreement was that the land could not be used for any purpose other than an African-American history museum or an educational or charitable purpose.

The deed of the gift, filed in court that year, refers to that restrictive use covenant, but the covenant document itself was not filed until 2009.

During the bankruptcy case, the museum's attorney, Sandra Robinson, had argued that the use covenants are invalid because of that delay in formally filing them. The museum argued that those covenants were not properly recorded, and that they can't be enforced.

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