Update on the Seabrook Warehouse - 40 Year Parking Lease Attempt

UPDATE: Since the story broke in September, Mayor Stoney has asked the Department of Public Works to proceed with the archaeological work approved and funded by Richmond city council in 2015. This was announced during the most recent meeting of the Shockoe Alliance, which the Mayor attended, along with a promise that such "failures to communicate" would not occur in future. - Ana Edwards

Stoney seeks to lease to a developer a Shockoe Bottom parking lot that could sit atop slavery site"  -- Richmond Times-Dispatch, Sept. 19, 2019 - If you are a Richmond Times Dispatch digital subscriber use this link to read the story. If not, we have posted the full story below.

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s attempt to lease to a political contributor a city-owned Shockoe Bottom parking lot that sits on a site of proven archeological significance calls into serious question his commitment to the Shockoe Alliance, a body he formed and tasked with developing a Small Area Master Plan to guide development in this internationally recognized historic district, once the epicenter of the U.S. domestic slave trade.

As the only community organization represented in the Alliance, the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project feels a special responsibility to speak out now and make the following points:

  1. Is the Shockoe Alliance a collaborative body with a true mission, or is it merely a cover to buffer public opinion while behind the scenes things quietly move in the wrong direction?
  2. Shockoe Bottom has been the well-publicized and well-documented focal point of research, commemoration and struggles to reveal and honor the horrors and resistance of Africans and people of African descent through and beyond slavery. Many individuals and organizations have made important contributions to this effort, including discovering the Trail of Enslaved Africans; making public the 1809 City map with the notation “Burial Ground for Negroes;” scholarly work on the area by many historians; the archeological discovery of the site of the Devil’s Half-Acre, the slave jail owned by the notorious Robert Lumpkin; and the community struggles led by the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project of the Virginia Defenders for Freedom, Justice & Equality.
  3. In 2003, as the historical importance of Shockoe Bottom was beginning to be recognized, individuals and community organizations, including the Defenders, began a campaign to reclaim Richmond's African Burial Ground, at the time used as a parking lot later purchased by Virginia Commonwealth University, a state institution. This ultimately successful campaign was Stage One in the ongoing struggle to reclaim and properly memorialize Shockoe Bottom.
  4. But while this struggle was still unfolding, our efforts had to pivot to preventing a series of private projects led by developers with no interest in the district’s historic significance, including the proposals in 2005, 2008 and 2012 for fast-track, massive sports stadium development projects. The most serious of these efforts was the baseball stadium project led by former Mayor Dwight Jones and the Venture Richmond business alliance. Against formidable odds, this broad community struggle, Stage Two of the Shockoe Bottom campaign, was successful.
  5. Stage Three has been the development of the community-generated proposal for a nine-acre Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park, to include the Devil’s Half-Acre, the African Burial Ground (which the City still has not protected with any special zoning or historical designation) and two blocks of parking lots east of the CSX railroad tracks where several other slave jails, many slave trader offices and supporting businesses once were located. Although support for this proposal has been clear in every public forum called to solicit community input on the future of Shockoe Bottom, neither City Council nor Mayor Stoney has yet taken a position for or against the memorial park.
  6. The Seabrook Warehouse site is where enslaved workers once labored in the tobacco industry for private profit - an important example of the industrial, urban slavery in which Richmond was a pioneer. The site abuts the footprint of the proposed memorial park. Years ago, City Council passed legislation and appropriated $50,000 to conduct research on the Seabrook site, because its significance already had been proven by preliminary research. That project was widely supported by the public as a logical, though small, first step toward demonstrating a commitment to making the Black history of Shockoe Bottom visible. However, then-Mayor Jones did not act on City Council’s initiative. To date, neither has Mayor Stoney. (Click here for a report on Seabrook by archivist Jeffrey Ruggles, and a proposal to do the archaeological work submitted by Cultural Resource Analysts in 2017.)

To these realities we respond:
  1. There is no point in forming city-run committees with no actual power to effect the tasks or changes they were asked to assume. The Shockoe Alliance should be allowed to complete its stated mission of creating a Shockoe Bottom Small Area Master Plan before any further development decisions are made in the district, and specifically before any decisions are made about known historic sites such as the Seabrook Warehouse 1810-1910 site.
  2. The already ordered and funded research project on the Seabrook site should go forward.
  3. The nine-acre Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park - inclusive of the Devil’s Half-Acre interpretive institution - should be implemented as part of the Small Area Master Plan, reflecting the public and dedicated stakeholder consensus that the history of slavery and the slave trade in Richmond and their significance to the development of the city, the state and the country be the central theme of this district's next phase of evolution.

Look for the following events:
  1. In mid-November, the Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, Preservation Virginia and the National Trust for Historic Preservation will unveil the results of the Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park economic impact and benefit study. This effort, funded by a $75,000 grant from a consortium of foundations led by the National Trust, has been studying the financial viability of the memorial park proposal and its economic benefits for the City as a whole and the Black community in particular.
  2. On Tuesday, Oct. 8, the Sacred Ground Project will present its 17th Annual Gabriel Forum as part of the Brother General Gabriel program produced by UntoldRVA, 6-9 p.m. to pay honor to the great slave rebellion leader Gabriel, who was executed there on that date in 1800, and to reflect on the lessons of that struggle for the many challenges we face today.
  3. On Saturday, Dec. 7, the Sacred Ground Project, in cooperation with co-sponsor Library of Virginia, will host an all-day Shockoe Bottom Truth and Conciliation Symposium at the Library of Virginia. The purpose of this event will be to examine the history of Shockoe Bottom before, during and after the slave trade and re-present the Community Proposal for a nine-Acre Shockoe Bottom Memorial Park in that context.
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

Stoney seeks to lease to a developer a Shockoe Bottom parking lot that could sit atop slavery site

By MARK ROBINSON Richmond Times-Dispatch 3 hrs ago

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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