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Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)

The city of Richmond has spent $23,000 so far on a historic-review process in Shockoe Bottom, but how far the review will go depends on the fate of the proposal to build a baseball stadium there.

Shockoe's history as a major slave-trading district has led to the most forceful opposition to the stadium plan, but the development proposed by Mayor Dwight C. Jones also includes a new commemoration of the slave trade at the site of Lumpkin's Jail and a potential slavery museum.

With the historic review starting before the City Council has reached a decision on the stadium, the prospect of unearthing more of Shockoe's slave-trading past is also now tied directly to the stadium proposal.

The firm leading the review, Dutton & Associates, was hired in the first week of February, though officials waited until last week to announce that the process was already underway.

Officials said Dutton, a local cultural resources management company, was hired as a subcontractor through a separate engineering firm that has a contract with the city to analyze potential flood mitigation and utility relocation in the Bottom.

That firm, Greely & Hansen, is the city's annual contractor for combined sewer overflow work, which deals with the handling of excess stormwater and wastewater.

There was no public contract award for the historic review, but officials said the process that was followed is not unusual.

"Procuring a subcontractor in this way is standard procedure and has routinely been carried out this way when it becomes necessary to determine if federal agencies must have a role," Tammy D. Hawley, the mayor's press secretary, said in an email.

The timeline for the review process is unclear.

Some of the land needed for the stadium development -- which also includes apartments, a hotel, a grocery store and office space -- is privately owned, which means the city can't simply go in and start digging.

Officials have projected three months for documentary research and expert review, followed by four months of archaeological excavation. Preparing a final report and educational materials on the findings would take about 18 months.

The Jones administration has said it doesn't anticipate problems with land acquisition, but Chief Administrative Officer Byron C. Marshall recently spent a half-hour in closed session with the board of the Richmond Economic Development Authority to discuss land negotiations.

A resolution passed by the council in February called for land contracts to be in place no later than March 27, the day Marshall discussed the issue with the development authority. The resolution also states that the land transfers must occur by Aug. 1.

The costs are also undetermined.

"We can't really project total cost at this time as the historical research has not been completed and we haven't yet determined the extent of possible excavations," Hawley said.

Though city officials have volunteered the historic-review process, it may end up being a requirement. This week, the D.C.-based National Trust for Historic Preservation sent city officials a five-page letter detailing federal requirements that may apply to the project under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

"Given its proposed location in the heart of Richmond's historic slave trading district, construction of the Revitalize RVA project certainly has the potential to directly and indirectly affect historic and archaeological resources listed or eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places," the letter read.

A Section 106 review is a consultation process that involves determining what historic resources exist, doing background research that could involve archaeological testing and exploring what can be done to reduce damage, all with public involvement.

The Section 106 process defines a historic property as one either included or eligible for the national historic register through an association with significant events, people or architecture, or has potential to yield new information, according to a guide from the federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation. The property also has to have retained its historical integrity.

The national register already includes an entry for the Shockoe Valley and Tobacco Row Historic District.

City officials have said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Federal Emergency Management Agency will vet the plan, largely because of the floodplain mitigation involved in the project. Because of the federal oversight, the city could be required to go through the Section 106 process. City officials have said they intend to follow a similar process whether it's required or not.

"If additional consultation is required by state or federal law, the city will adjust this archaeological and historical review process accordingly," the city said in the release laying out its proposed review process.

The response to the mayor's archaeological plan has been mixed, with some characterizing it as a positive step and others remaining critical. Stadium opponents planned to hold an event tonightin Shockoe where a descendant of Solomon Northup, the historical figure featured in the Oscar-winning film "12 Years a Slave," is expected to read from Northup's account of his captivity in Richmond.

It's uncertain when the City Council might decide on the larger Shockoe development plan.

The administration has not yet produced a final plan.

Last week, officials also announced that office space will replace some of the apartments envisioned in the plan, which would reduce the total number of units. But in legislation introduced to the council, the number of residential units determines how much the private developers would contribute to the slavery site, which is projected at up to $1.25 million.

"Project concepts have been fluid since the beginning," Hawley said. "Contributions to the heritage site will remain a priority and we envision no retreating from that commitment."

When the final plan is on the table, the council wants to have the project vetted by a third-party consultant. Legislation devoting $50,000 to that purpose will be considered by a council committee next week.

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April 4, 2014




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