U.S. National Slavery Museum Debated in 2 Va. Courts

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File photo of slave shackles on display at a museum (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

File photo of slave shackles on display at a museum (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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RICHMOND, Va. — A federal judge will decide within days whether the U.S. National Slavery Museum’s largest creditor can legally challenge deed restrictions on the museum’s proposed home in Fredericksburg.

Pei Partnership Architects wants the court to lift the restrictions on the 38-acre property because it says they sharply limit the property’s value for sale.

The museum proposed by former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder was to rise on the land off Interstate 95 but Wilder has struggled to attract donations so it can go forward.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Saturday that U.S. District Judge James R. Spencer heard testimony Friday and said he would rule on Pei’s request within a week.

Pei designed the museum that was never built and is owed about $6 million.

The property can be used for an African-American heritage museum or for charitable, educational or public purposes.

Paul Prado, an attorney who represents the architects, said the limitations discourage developers willing to pay big money for the real estate.

The property was donated to the museum in 2002 by Celebrate Virginia South. It is asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Pei does not have the authority to remove the restrictions.

The property is part of a 2.4-million-square-foot, multiuse development.

John R. Walk, who is representing Celebrate, told the judge that the property was donated to the National Slavery Museum as part of an effort to create a tourist destination that would be anchored by the museum.

The National Slavery Museum filed for bankruptcy in September 2011, but the case was dismissed in August.

On Monday, a judge in Fredericksburg delayed a hearing that could clear the way for the city to auction the property. The museum owes more than $300,000 in real estate taxes to the city.

Wilder, the grandson of slaves and the nation’s first elected black governor, has said he was inspired to create a museum to tell of the nation’s lucrative commerce in human enslavement after he visited Africa 20 years ago. He assembled a board that included distinguished African Americans and enlisted the financial support of entertainer Bill Cosby, but could not sustain fundraising.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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