|The parking lot behind the Exxon station at 18th and East Broad streets used to house a tobacco warehouse.|
Photo by Bob Brown, Richmond Times Dispatch
By MARK ROBINSON Richmond Times-Dispatch 3 hrs ago
Stoney seeks to lease to a developer a Shockoe Bottom parking lot that could sit atop slavery site
A city-owned parking lot in Shockoe Bottom may sit atop archaeological evidence of Richmond’s history as a notorious slave-trading hub.
Mayor Levar Stoney wants to lease it to a developer who donated to his political action committee, an arrangement that would help the developer secure financing for a high-rise hotel.
The proposed 40-year agreement with Weimans Bakery LLC — an entity associated with Louis Salomonsky — drew condemnation on Thursday from City Council members who decried inaction to investigate and preserve the property’s history.
“Places where enslaved Africans were sold, held — that story needs to shared and visited and commemorated,” said Councilman Michael Jones.
The property at 212 N. 18th St. would help Salomonsky, a onetime partner in then-Mayor Dwight C. Jones’ failed plan to build a minor league baseball stadium in Shockoe Bottom, secure parking essential to moving forward with the $24 million hotel he plans for an adjacent parcel at 127 N. 17th St.
The lease agreement Stoney proposed would help Salomonsky satisfy a stipulation of his financing for the project, which would rise on a property that is zoned TOD-1 — a designation meant to promote dense development and reduce parking requirements for developers.
“Weimans Bakery LLC lenders are requiring a long-term lease controlling parking for financing purposes,” according to a staff report the Stoney administration sent to the council with the proposed lease agreement last week.
Salomonsky and his business partner, Brian White, run Historic Housing LLC. In March, the development firm donated $1,000 to Stoney’s political action committee, One Richmond, according to campaign finance records made available through the Virginia Public Access Project.
Jim Nolan, a Stoney spokesman, said the donation did not play a role in the administration’s decision to propose the lease agreement.
The council’s Finance and Economic Development Committee lambasted the proposed lease at its meeting Thursday.
Councilman Parker Agelasto called it “insulting” and said the property was “one of the Bottom’s best protected archaeological sites to understand the greater impact” of the area’s history. For a period, Shockoe Bottom was the second-largest slave-trading hub in the U.S.
The property was once the site of the Seabrook Tobacco Warehouse built in 1810. It later housed a Confederate hospital during the Civil War. The city bought the warehouse and demolished it.
In 2014, a cultural resources consultant told the council the property was worth excavating. A year later, Agelasto was one of three council members who sponsored a resolution asking the city administration to commission an archaeological study of the area. The resolution passed unanimously at the time, and the council budgeted $50,000 to pay for it.
That study never happened under Jones and to date has not happened under Stoney, either, Agelasto said. He criticized the administration for flouting what the council asked it to do, then made a motion to strike the lease agreement from the full council’s docket. In a rare move, the committee unanimously recommended the council not even consider the lease when the full body meets Monday.
The Stoney administration launched the Shockoe Alliance earlier this year to gather input for a long-term plan for Shockoe Bottom and Shockoe Valley. Stoney said he wanted the plan to chart how the city could respectfully develop the area and memorialize the Bottom’s history. The alliance has held public meetings but has not released any recommendations to date.
Nolan, the Stoney spokesman, said the administration would work with the council to address its concerns about the lease.
“The recommendation for the paper came from [Department of Public Works] staff and went through the normal channels, but the administration was not fully aware of the committee’s concerns prior to this meeting. ... Regardless, the Shockoe Alliance continues its work, and thoughtful and measured economic development is consistent with its goals.”
The proposed lease would provide 91 parking spots and generate an estimated $76,500 in revenue for the city annually, according to the staff report.
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