Mystery donor saves National Slavery Museum from bankruptcy

Posted at 11:17 AM, Aug 17, 2012
and last updated 2012-08-18 11:45:07-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - A judge dismissed the National Slavery Museum’s bankruptcy case Friday morning after an anonymous donor came forward to pay the back taxes owed to the City of Fredericksburg.

Former Virginia Governor Doug Wilder,  who founded the project, who was not in court. However, his attorney said the donor will pay the $250,000 in back taxes owed to the city of Fredericksburg over the next few days. The debt that led to the museum filing for bankruptcy nearly a year ago.

CBS 6 News' Sandra Jones also reports Wilder also set up payment plan for the $5 million owed to Pei Partnership Architects.

Attorneys for developers argued that the museum should be liquidated, saying that Wilder has shows a reluctance to raise funds needed to revive the project.

However, Judge Douglas Tice said converting the case to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy would cause more hardships for creditors and people who donated artifacts to the museum.

"We're pleased with this outcome," said Sandra Robinson, an attorney for Wilder. "We are appreciative of the time that we were able to get while we in bankruptcy—to get our affairs in order. But we do expect to move forward very quickly… getting the mission effectuated."

Additionally, Robinson said Pei Partnership Architects have demonstrated a continued commitment to the museum.

Celebrate Virginia's Scott Little said he believes the dismissal was in the best interest of the museum, but not those owed money and affected by the delays.

"It's been hard to us to just sit on the outside and watch it all crumble apart because we have tremendous and mounting damages because the slavery museum was never built," said Little. "We just wanted to see something happen... We're happy that something is finally moving."

The news came as the city of Fredericksburg was preparing to auction the vacant land where the museum was set to be built in order to recoup the tax debt.

Mark Ames, an attorney for the city, said the dismissal benefits the city coffers and the treasurer.

"I mean his duty is to have these taxes paid. And that's the result we've gotten here today. Assuming they do what they're representing,” said Ames.

Wilder has received about $100,000 in pledges for the museum since June,  according to Robinson. That's when his tax-exempt status was reinstated. Additionally, some attorneys have volunteered their time for fundraising and building effort.

Wilder had told a federal judge last month he wanted to scale back the project, sell off a huge portion of the waterfront property to pay off his debtors and use the rest of the land to eventually open the museum.

CBS 6 News tried to reach the former governor to get his reaction to the dismissal, but he has not returned the station's phone calls.

After years of planning and countless donations, the prime piece of real estate supposed to be the home of the United States National Slavery museum still sits vacant. And there has been been no timetable yet for when the museum could be completed.