The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
City Council mulls historic courthouse’s future
BY ROBYN SIDERSKY
The Fredericksburg City Council eliminated two options Tuesday for the future of the 160-year-old Circuit Courthouse: selling it for private redevelopment or donating it to a nonprofit group.
The council agreed to continue exploring other alternatives, including:
- Lease it to a nonprofit and renovate it to a “warm, lit shell.”
- Renovate it for an undetermined public use at the city’s expense.
- Lease it to a nonprofit that would pay for the renovation.
- Renovate the building for city offices and a new council chamber.
The council also identified objectives for the building, and the top priority was: “Preserve the iconic historic structure.” The other objectives were:
- repair and improve critical building systems,
- facilitate economic development and tourism,
- meet long-term needs of city offices,
- retain public ownership and
- minimize use that burdens parking capacity.
Before the meeting, each council member—excluding Councilman Matt Kelly, who chose not to participate—ranked each alternative and objective in order of importance.
Some of the council members said it was hard to evaluate the alternatives because there are many unknowns, such as costs.
Councilman George Solley asked city staff to come back to the council with an analysis of benefits and drawbacks for each alternative.
The council came to a consensus that it will be a priority to keep the building operating as a public facility.
Councilman Brad Ellis said it is a part of the city’s historic fabric.
Councilwoman Bea Paolucci agreed.
“It’s the only courthouse that [James] Renwick ever designed. Period. It’s one-of-a-kind,” she said.
Solley reminded the council that this ties in with the objective most considered a priority: preserving the historic iconic structure.
He spoke against selling it. “The only way we can really maintain control over what happens to that building for a long period of time is to own it,” he said.
Kelly pointed out that whatever the city decides, it needs to weigh the costs against other city priorities.
An example of the city leasing space to a nonprofit—one of the options discussed—is the old City Hall. The Fredericksburg Area Museum and Cultural Center leases it for $1, City Manager Beverly Cameron said.
Renovations cannot be done until the Circuit Court and clerk move into the new courthouse in spring 2014.
Construction would not take place until fiscal 2015 at the earliest.
The courthouse was designed by James Renwick Jr. in 1852.
Renwick is known for designing several major buildings, such as the Smithsonian Castle in Washington, D.C., and St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City.
In the council’s regular meeting at 7:30, which followed the work session, the following action was taken:
The council gave approval to fund two days of backhoe work at the site of Amelia Square, where remnants of an early-19th-century pottery previously unknown to experts were found.
Later this month, archaeologists will do an excavation.
The council also approved extending downtown on-street parking limits from two hours to four hours from Nov. 10 until Dec. 31 for holiday shopping.
The council approved a special-use permit for a tire service center in Greenbrier Shopping Center. Rent N Roll Custom Wheels and Performance Tires will occupy a 5,000-square-foot space.
The council approved a special-use permit allowing New City Fellowship church to use its parking lot for Virginia Rail Express users.
The council accepted the nominations from the city’s memorial advisory commission to add William “Sidney” Armstrong, George H. Brumble and John W. Scott Jr. to the Wall of Honor.
The council appointed former Mayor Lawrence Davies to the Rappahannock Area Community Services Board and Allen Ludwig to the Fredericksburg Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s Transportation Advisory Group.
Robyn Sidersky 540/374-5413