The site of Virginia’s first General Assembly, most recently a parking lot, will now feature a hotel complex and the First Freedom Center.
It used to be (arguably) the most historic parking lot in Richmond, and now it's about to become the city's most historic hotel complex. But before the bellman arrives, will archaeologists get to dig their trowels into the site of Virginia's first General Assembly?
"It's my understanding that's carefully planned into the process," says Randolph Bell, president of the First Freedom Center . Bell's organization owns the Shockoe Slip site and at last found a developer to improve the spot where the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was adopted. "They're well aware of the need to do that because they're in an Old and Historic District."
But while Bell says the company developing the site, Apple REIT, has told him that plans are in place, he referred questions about that plan to local Apple executive Justin Knight.
Knight did not return calls before press time.
Built into the proffers for the complex is a First Freedom Center, including a reconstruction of a section of cobbled Virginia Street that will pass through the lobby area of the building, but the Old and Historic District designation itself appears to afford no particular protections as earth movers prepare to dig footings for a multistory Marriott hotel complex planned for the site.
"Yes, the location is in an Old and Historic District," confirms Richmond government spokeswoman Jay Ell Vaughn, but she says that "it is not subject to archaeology review under the City's Old and Historic Regulations."
"There is no review," says Randy Jones, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Historic Resources. "We are not involved in that project at this point."
More recently, the site was a surface parking lot. Prior to that, it spent the early and middle part of the last century as a gas station — with at least one buried fuel tank — meaning that any evidence of its 18th-century use likely has already been partly compromised, says Richmond-area historian and author Selden Richardson.
"But I think it's a legitimate question," Richardson says. "It's a uniquely blank site — easily accessed as far as what's on it or under it. A survey or sampling would not be too ridiculous, just to see what's going on there."