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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.
Could stadium proposal resolve slavery museum case?
COMPLETE COVERAGE: View all related stories and images on the Fredericksburg baseball proposal
The long-standing legal battle involving the Celebrate Virginia South land that was once scheduled to be home to the National Slavery Museum could be resolved as part of an effort to bring minor league baseball to Fredericksburg.
The latest chapter in the museum case came Monday when a local attorney filed his recommendations on determining the value of the 38-acre parcel, which has more recently been eyed as an attractive site for a multi-purpose stadium.
The National Slavery Museum, which is spearheaded by former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder, was gifted the land along Interstate 95 in 2002, but the facility has never been built. City real estate taxes have not been paid on the land since 2008, creating a tax bill of about $350,000. There are also additional legal expenses associated with the city’s effort to sell the land at auction to recoup taxes.
Determining a proper value for the land has been challenging due to a restriction placed on the site in 2002 when Celebrate Virginia developer the Silver Cos. gifted the parcel to the Slavery Museum organization. The restrictions state that the property can be used only for an African-American history museum, or other educational or charitable purpose. Silver could at some point decide to lift those restrictions.
The land is currently assessed at about $7.6 million, significantly more than the value determined by two separate appraisals ordered as part of the tax sale process. Attorneys for the museum have challenged the assessed value, and that case remains pending.
Fredericksburg Circuit Court Judge Gordon Willis in May appointed local attorney Kevin Jones as commissioner in chancery in the case to determine a value for the property. Jones heard evidence from all sides and filed his report Monday.
Using price data from the two appraisals, Jones found that the value of the property, not accounting for the restriction, was $3.12 million. But he determined that it’s not possible to accurately estimate what discount should be placed on the value due to the restriction.
Jones advised that the sale should not occur until the separate case involving assessed value is concluded, though he did recommend that the museum should be required to pay the taxes prior to 2010 in the interim. The museum’s case doesn’t challenge the assessed value prior to 2010.
A hearing will likely be scheduled sometime soon in front of Willis, who could elect to take up Jones’ recommendation.
It may never come to that, however.
Since early this year, meetings have been held off and on between representatives of the city, Wilder and Pei Partnership Architects, which designed the museum and has a judgment against the museum organization worth more than $6 million, to resolve the case through a negotiated purchase of the land. Should that be resolved, Silver would waive the restriction on the land and allow a minor league baseball stadium to be built on the site, which would likely be deeded to the city.
A smaller slavery museum could still be built near the stadium as part of that plan.
The Hagerstown Suns, a Class A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, have expressed an interest to move to Fredericksburg, though City Council has not approved plans for a publicly financed stadium that the Suns have proposed leasing. The Suns have offered to put up $3 million upfront toward project costs. That amount could be used to acquire the slavery museum site, and if some of the money remains after that acquisition, the balance could be applied toward other stadium costs.
Those discussions continue to occur amid other negotiations involving the baseball deal. An attorney for Pei, Paul Prados, said all stakeholders in the case are generally in favor of resolving the matter through the negotiated sale.