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Suns partner makes land bid

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Ron Rosner, a local partner with the group planning to build a multipurpose baseball stadium in Fredericksburg, has offered $1.5 million for the land now owned by the U.S. National Slavery museum.

But an attorney for the debt-ridden museum’s biggest creditor, Pei Partnership Architects, wasn’t authorized to negotiate a sale price Tuesday when he learned of the offer.

As a result, Spotsylvania Circuit Judge Joseph Ellis on Tuesday gave the parties 30 days to negotiate a possible private sale of the 38 acres in Celebrate Virginia South before he decides whether to authorize a public auction.

The museum, proposed by former Gov. Doug Wilder, owes the city of Fredericksburg more than $350,000 in unpaid taxes, which has allowed the city to move to auction off the land to recoup the debt.

The museum also owes Pei Partnership Architects more than $6 million in unpaid fees and interest.

Attorneys for all three groups were in court Tuesday for a hearing on the sale of the land.

The museum, represented by Del. Joe Morrissey of Richmond, objects to the sale and the valuation of the land by a commissioner of chancery. Morrissey this week re-filed a lawsuit against Fredericksburg claiming that the city has assessed the tax value of the land too high.

Pei objects to the valuation of the land because the commissioner’s report didn’t definitively decide whether restrictions on the land’s use are enforceable. Pei has argued they shouldn’t be and that they reduce the land’s value.

The Silver Cos. donated the land to the museum in 2002 with the restriction that it be used for a museum of African–American history or for another charitable use.

The city’s attorney, John Rife of Taxing Authority Consulting Services, told Ellis he had learned late Monday night of the offer from the Hagerstown Suns baseball partnership.

The Suns, a single A affiliate of the Washington Nationals, and the city of Fredericksburg have been in negotiations for a possible deal to move the team to Fredericksburg.

On Monday, Rosner Auto Group announced plans to invest in the baseball deal and obtain naming rights to the stadium. Rosner has dealerships in Fredericksburg and Stafford, Spotsylvania and King George counties selling Toyota, Volvo, Nissan, Ford and Mercedes–Benz vehicles.

Jackie Solomon, chief financial officer of Rosner Auto Group, was in court Tuesday and showed attorneys a check.

Rosner later said it was a cashier’s check for $1.5 million made payable to the city of Fredericksburg. He provided it on behalf of the partnership involving the Suns, Diamond Nation and his company, with the expectation it would be accepted and that the group would receive the deed to the land.

Now, he said the group will have to wait another month.

Rife told Ellis that a private sale would “provide for a quicker relief” to the city and to Pei, and would prevent Wilder’s museum from re-filing for bankruptcy.

The museum filed for bankruptcy almost two years ago, but the case ended a year ago with promises by the museum’s then-attorney that a private donor was prepared to pay the museum’s tax debt within days.

No such payment was ever made.

The bankruptcy judge ruled that the museum could not file for bankruptcy again for a year. That year expires this week.

Pei attorney Paul Prados said his company is “willing to talk” to the private buyer, but pointed out that the company’s lien against the museum property is worth about $6.5 million. He said Pei understands it won’t get that full amount, but suggested the land should be worth more than the $1.5 million offered.

Morrissey, representing the museum, said its leadership is prepared to repay about $104,933 of its tax debt. Morrissey suggested that figure represents the amount of tax debt that is undisputed in the museum’s separate lawsuit against the city over the assessment.

Rife said after the court hearing that the city’s position is that the museum has to pay the full amount owed, about $350,000, to stop efforts to sell the property.

Ellis scheduled the next hearing in the case—one in which he’ll decide whether to move forward with auctioning the land—for Sept. 25. But he suggested that negotiations for a private sale move forward.

“Anything you can negotiate is usually better than anything you can litigate,” Ellis said. “It is better that you control your own futures and those of your clients.”

—Staff reporter Pam Gould contributed to this story.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028