Five months after Mayor Levar Stoney announced a funding commitment to establish a long-sought slavery commemorative site in Shockoe Bottom, the City of Richmond is taking steps to purchase land for the project that just a few years ago was being pitched for a baseball stadium.
Administrators are proposing a public necessity declaration to allow the city to purchase 12 parcels totaling roughly 1.75 acres that would contribute to a planned Enslaved African Heritage Campus.
The project would include a planned memorial park and slavery museum and encompass sites such as the Lumpkin’s Jail/Devil’s Half Acre site and land known as the African American Burial Ground.
The parcels, which make up the bulk of two blocks just east of the Main Street Station train shed, are owned by the family behind Loving’s Produce Co., which ended operations last year. The city would purchase the land, which includes the old Loving’s building at Ambler and Grace streets, from two ownership entities: Harry and Betty Loving LLC, and Loving’s Produce LLC.
The latest city assessment valued the properties collectively at $2.4 million. The city’s purchase would be based on fair market values determined through appraisals and funded through a project allocation in the city’s capital improvement plan, according to an October memo to the City Council.
The parcel addresses are 1600, 1604, 1606 and 1610 E. Franklin St., 103 Ambler St., 1601 E. Grace St., and 200, 208, 212, 214, 220 and 222 N. 17th St.
An ordinance to declare the public necessity and authorize the purchase is scheduled to go before the Planning Commission at its next regular meeting Jan. 4. The item is on the commission’s consent agenda, typically involving business that is voted on without discussion. It would then go to the council for potential adoption with a public hearing at its Jan. 11 meeting.
In July, Stoney announced that the city would commit between $25 million and $50 million for the campus project through a budget amendment in the five-year CIP. An initial $1.7 million established the project fund earlier this year, and additional allocations are expected in future budgets. Stoney said $3.5 million would be invested in the memorial park specifically.
Envisioned by the Shockoe Alliance advisory group, the park would encompass the African American Burial Ground and Devil’s Half Acre sites, which straddle Broad Street between the train tracks and Interstate 95. The two blocks east of the tracks that involve the Loving land are planned to be used as an archaeological site and would house the memorial and other campus features.
The city’s public works department owns some of the land in the two blocks, which are currently used as parking lots. The parcels to be purchased line the 200 block of 17th Street and most of the block that contains the Loving building.
The Loving family, which markets its holdings with Porter Realty, owns additional properties nearby that would not be involved in the city’s purchase. Those properties include the building that houses Havana ’59 restaurant, and a corner building in the 100 block of 17th Street near the former Weiman’s Bakery.
Developer Louis Salomonsky has considered the bakery property for a hotel after purchasing it in 2014 with business partner David White.
That property and the Loving holdings were at the center of proposals from previous administrations to develop the area around a baseball stadium to replace the aging Diamond. Talks have since shifted to building a new stadium in the area of The Diamond, potentially along Hermitage Road.
The purchase would take the Loving properties off the city’s tax rolls, resulting in a projected loss of just over $30,000 in annual real estate tax revenue. They also are located in or near a 100-year floodplain recognized by FEMA that could factor into the final purchase price.
The campus project is reflected in a small area plan that is being developed by the Shockoe Alliance group and is to be incorporated into the recently adopted Richmond 300 master plan. The group kicked off the planning effort in 2019 after The Rose Center for Public Leadership provided recommendations aimed at creating a “shared vision” for Shockoe Bottom and memorializing the area’s history as the second-largest slave-trading hub in the country.
Those and other efforts by groups such Sacred Ground Historical Reclamation Project, Preservation Virginia and the National Trust for Historic Preservation culminated in recent years with a conceptual plan for the campus.
The city’s purchase would add to other investments in the works in the area. Across Broad Street, a 5-acre tract also owned by the Loving family is being positioned for a mixed-use development that could include a grocery store.