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Funding for Slavery Site Uncertain

The House of Delegates voted to slash all but $2 million for the project from their budget.



The General Assembly adjourns Saturday and lawmakers have yet to resolve how much money the state is going to kick in for a slave heritage site in Shockoe Bottom.

Negotiators from the Senate and House of Delegates are currently working to find a compromise between the two versions of the state spending plans passed by each body, and among the differences yet to be worked out is how much money will go toward the proposed memorial in Richmond -- a key element in Mayor Dwight Jones’ plan to build a baseball-anchored development in Shockoe Bottom.

Before he left office, Gov. Bob McDonnell submitted a budget that included $11 million for the design and construction of a pavilion in Shockoe Bottom at Lumpkin’s Slave Jail, a slavery museum and improvements to the Richmond Slave Trail.

The House of Delegates amended McDonnell’s budget, cutting that line item to $2 million in the budget it passed late last month. The amended version says that once construction is complete the city “shall be eligible” for reimbursement from the state up to $9 million, but no more than 25 percent of the project’s total cost.

It’s unclear how firmly the House language commits the state to the future reimbursement because the plan sets aside no additional money. The explanation attached to the amendment says only that funding was “reduced to reflect the fact that the project schedule is such that it will not be completed until the fiscal year 2016-18 biennium.”

Jones’ proposal for the Bottom calls for $24.8 million in improvements to the Richmond Slave Trail: $12.9 million for the Lumpkin’s Pavilion project, $8.1 million for improvements to the slave burial ground, $1.8 million to cover three years of operating costs, a $1.5 million maintenance reserve, and $500,000 in planning costs.

That means if the House language is adopted and the state sticks with the 25-percent reimbursement cap, the total state contribution is reduced to $8.2 million.

Meanwhile, the Senate’s version of the budget preserves McDonnell’s full $11 million allocation, but spreads the expenditure over the next two fiscal years.

Jones has proposed paying for the heritage site through a mix of public and private money. In addition to the hoped-for $11 million state contribution, the city committed to putting up $5 million while the remainder would be raised from developers involved in the project and the business community.

Jones and his staff have pitched the slave heritage development as a crucial component of his ballpark plan, which calls for a minor league stadium, 700 apartments, a grocery store and a 100-room hotel. Jones says the city long has ignored its past as a center of the slave trade. Without the ballpark development, he says it would be difficult if not impossible to raise money for the memorial site.

Before the House’s budget vote in February, the city’s lobbyist reported to City Council that some delegates had expressed concern about appropriating money for a project that hadn’t won local approval. In response, City Council unanimously passed a resolution committing to the slavery heritage development regardless of the outcome of the ballpark debate.

It’s unclear how city officials would move forward with the project if state funding is reduced. Council members have said they’re unwilling to proceed with the mayor’s proposal without the slave heritage site. To that end, last week the council unanimously amended the resolution that moves the project forward so that it requires the mayor’s staff to obtain firm funding commitments for that element of the project before a final vote.

Jones’ press secretary, Tammy Hawley, didn’t respond to an email requesting comment.

Sen. John Watkins, the only member of the General Assembly’s Joint Conference that represents part of Richmond, declined to comment on the status of the line-item, saying that because negotiations are ongoing “it would not be prudent to make a statement at this time.”

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