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Bill Freehling is a business writer for The Free Lance-Star and Fredericksburg.com. This blog is on Fredericksburg-area business. Send an e-mail to Bill Freehling.
Stafford attorney proposes alternative slavery museum design
A Stafford County attorney has proposed an alternative design for a slavery museum in Fredericksburg that could be built cheaply and quickly using shipping containers.
Richard M. Alvey, a Woodbridge man whose law office is in Stafford’s courthouse area, sent a letter last week to officials with the city of Fredericksburg, Pei Partnership Architects and the Silver Cos. outlining his vision for the stalled project.
“An alternative plan should be considered,” Alvey wrote, noting that the project that was once proposed on 38 acres in the city’s Celebrate Virginia development is now “deadlocked.”
Alvey’s concept is inspired by a global traveling art, film and photography exhibit called “Ashes and Snow.”
That exhibit, as is the case with Alvey’s proposal, is housed in a structure whose walls are constructed with interlocking sea containers to create voids. Alvey suggests using those voids for displays and live performances by actors playing the roles of historical figures such as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass and John Brown.
Alvey’s proposed structure would be built with about 50 sea containers, which he said are 8-feet thick and would provide a year-round temperature of about 56 degrees inside. There would be a white rubber roof and Styrofoam-style material on the outside to evoke a mountaintop. The structure would be 48-feet tall at its highest point. The floor would be gravel and wood.
Alvey has built a small model of the proposed structure and keeps it at his Stafford office.
He suggests that a replica slave ship, auction block and slave quarters be built on site. He thinks the entire facility should be interactive, with a focus on both entertainment and education. He calls for nightly feasts drawing on the tradition of a Hawaiian luau, and he thinks the facility could generate significant tourism revenue and new jobs.
Alvey said he doesn’t have experience as a developer and didn’t cite what his proposed facility would cost. He said he just wanted to put forward the idea because the current plan seems hopelessly deadlocked. He noted that perhaps someday the Pei design could be built.
“I would hate to see this project not go forward,” Alvey said.
The U.S. National Slavery Museum, an organization once led by former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder, has not paid its city property taxes since 2008 and now owes about $332,000 plus attorney fees. Pei says it is owed close to $6 million for design work it performed for the slavery museum.
The city is now moving forward on selling the 38 acres at auction to recoup back taxes, while Pei is trying to maximize the proceeds it could receive from the sale by asking a judge to eliminate a covenant that Celebrate Virginia developer the Silver Cos. placed on the land when it donated the property to the slavery museum organization a decade ago.
The restriction states that the property cannot be used for any purpose other than an African-American history museum or an educational or charitable purpose.
A sculpture surrounded by overgrown weeds is the only physical sign of the project’s onetime existence at the Fredericksburg property, parts of which overlook Interstate 95.