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Freedom Center to Include Hotels in Shockoe Slip



The Council for America's First Freedom is set to memorialize the birth of the country's religious freedom statute with a monument, an exhibit space — and two Marriott hotels.

The property at the corner of 14th and Cary streets, across from SinAc, has long operated as a parking lot, but it stands on the site where Virginia's legislature passed Thomas Jefferson's Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786. The religious freedom clause in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment was based on Virginia's law.

Plans call for an exhibit space and a curved monument facing the corner. Literature for the project says the facility will bring together “two Marriott brand hotels,” but officials with the nonprofit wouldn't offer details. Sources say it's likely one of the hotels would be an extended-stay facility, typically designed for business travelers.

Construction is expected to begin in early 2009, with the hotels opening in late 2010. First Freedom is finalizing an agreement with Apple REIT Cos., a local real estate investment trust, which is developing the hotels, says Sharon Durham, the center's chief financial officer.

“It's not just about building the center,” Durham says, “but about being part of the community in a very positive way.”

The council formed in 1984 and has floated various plans to build a conference center and park with a monument to religious freedom over the years. Despite having raised $6 million in assets, including the real estate, only recently has a project materialized.

“Mostly it's finding the right partner,” Durham says.

The plans call for Virginia Street to be closed, a move that the city's Planning Department has opposed in other instances. Because this project would include a courtyard on the closed street to preserve open space, however, city officials are somewhat assuaged, Director Rachel Flynn says.

“I think it's been tastefully done,” she says.

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