US slavery museum in Va. facing mounting demands

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RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s proposed national slavery museum faces new demands as it attempts to emerge from $7 million in debt, including a request that the museum liquidate its assets, according to court filings.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder’s proposed national slavery museum faces new demands as it attempts to emerge from $7 million in debt, including a request that the museum liquidate its assets, according to court filings.

The new filings in U.S. Bankruptcy Court follow an earlier filing by the city of Fredericksburg opposing a proposed Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan, further clouding the future of a museum that was to tell nation’s story of slavery. Fredericksburg said the museum’s bid to repay its creditors through an ambitious fund-raising campaign is unrealistic.

The museum filed for protection from its creditors in 2011 after donations had stopped coming in for several years and it lost its tax-exempt status.

The latest filings are from the company that donated 38 acres for the proposed U.S. National Slavery Museum in Fredericksburg and a company that has not been paid for storage of artifacts destined to be displayed at the museum.

Sandra R. Robinson, an attorney representing the museum, has not discussed the case outside of court and did not immediately respond to The Associated Press for comment. Wilder has also repeatedly declined comment, saying he is heeding the court’s request to abstain from publicly discussing the case.

Creditors are expected to file their support or objections before a June 27 confirmation hearing on the museum’s reorganization plan.

One of the latest filings is from Celebrate Virginia, which donated land to the museum in 2002. The company said the land was valued at $19 million then but is now assessed at $7.6 million. The land has never been developed, and another creditor has a $5.1 million lien on the land.

Celebrate Virginia asked the court to convert the case to a Chapter 7 — a liquidation — so the land can be sold before its value diminishes further.

"The debtor has failed to maintain the property in a proper way such that the property now appears neglected and unkempt, with the debtor having no funding to cure this deficiency," attorneys for Celebrate Virginia wrote in the filing.

The filing also calls the museum’s reorganization plan "vague, speculative, confusing, incomplete and/or unfeasible …"

Robinson’s reorganization plan banks on raising $900,000 the first year it emerges from bankruptcy protection, with that sum increasing in subsequent years, to repay creditors.

The other filing, also submitted on Wednesday, is from the Hilldrup Companies, a Stafford storage company that began storing office equipment and "various artifacts" for the museum in 2004. It’s seeking payment of $1,772.75 for storage and moving fees. Artifacts such as shackles and other remnants of slavery were to be displayed at the museum.

Wilder, the grandson of slaves and the nation’s first elected black governor, has said he got the idea for the museum during a trip to Africa in the 1990s. He initially attracted donations with entertainer Bill Cosby and other prominent African-Americans on the museum’s board.

As donations sputtered, the museum filed for bankruptcy protection from its creditors last September, six years after it was scheduled to open.

Meanwhile, the National Museum of African American History and Culture is set to open in Washington, D.C., in three years. Skeptics of Wilder’s plan say that competition for dollars and a down economy cast doubt on the resurrection of the Virginia museum.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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