The U.S. National Slavery Museum, a $100 million project led by former Virginia governor L. Douglas Wilder, remains stalled due in part to a lack of funding and protracted legal battles, the Washington Post reports.
As envisioned nearly twenty years ago by Wilder, the grandson of slaves and the first African American to be elected governor of any state, the museum was slated to open in 2004 on thirty-eight acres of land donated by a real estate company. Fundraising efforts have stalled in the years since, however, and supporters who contributed funds, collectors who donated valuable artifacts, architects, and artists are still waiting for it to open, while the museum itself owes the city $300,000 in unpaid property taxes and a $5.1 million court judgment won by architect C.C. Pei. Although Wilder has issued statements and spoken on video about his commitment to the museum, he has repeatedly declined to discuss the situation in any detail.
In 2008, Wilder claimed that the financial crisis and economic downturn had slowed fundraising and asked the Fredericksburg city council to exempt the donated land from local property taxes. The council declined, and the museum's office was shuttered later that year. Last September, after the city moved to seize the land for unpaid taxes, an attorney acting for the museum filed for bankruptcy. Meanwhile, the organization lost its federal tax-exempt status for failure to file its Form 990 for three consecutive years. In August, the bankruptcy case was dismissed after the attorney said the debt to the city could be repaid "in days." In court documents, the attorney proposed selling twenty acres of the donated land, re-launching fundraising efforts, and starting regular payments to Pei Partnership Architects.
The real estate company that donated land subsequently asked that the judge move to scuttle the project, citing a lack of funds for its completion, restrictions on the use and sale of the land, and unrealistic projections for raising millions of dollars over the next few years.
The city has since resumed its efforts to sell the property at auction — a lengthy legal process that will take months, Jud Honaker, president of commercial development for the Silver Cos., told the Post. "We don't understand what Governor Wilder is doing," said Honaker. "We'd certainly like to get it resolved one way or another, and either build the museum or stop kicking the can down the road."