RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Gov. Ralph Northam (D) unveiled a proposal Friday to invest nearly $25 million to reimagine Virginia’s historical sites, including nearly $11 million to transform Monument Avenue in Richmond, in an effort to help “tell the true story of our past.”
The governor announced plans to include the funding, which will allow the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts to begin “a community-driven initiative” to redesign the section of Richmond where Confederate monuments stood for generations, in his proposed budget. The proposal also includes a $9 million investment to develop a Slavery Heritage Site, helping to preserve Devil’s Half-Acre as a historical site, and improving the Slave Trail in Shockoe Bottom.
“These investments will help Virginia tell the true story of our past and continue building an inclusive future,” Northam said in a statement. “At a time when this Commonwealth and country are grappling with how to present a more complete and honest picture of our complex history, we must work to enhance public spaces that have long been neglected and shine light on previously untold stories.”
Specific details of the plan, including whether a memorial for Marcus-David Peters is expected to be part of the Monument Avenue project, have not been decided yet. A VMFA spokeswoman told 8News the plan is in its “infancy stage” as officials will seek input from community leaders before making decisions and state lawmakers must still approve the budget proposal.
“For too long, Richmond’s Monument Avenue told an incomplete and inaccurate story of the city and Virginia’s past,” said VMFA Director and CEO Alex Nyerges in a statement. “The funding to transform Monument Avenue will allow us to reenvision an inspirational, forward thinking, inclusive and healing place for everyone who lives in and visits our city and state.”
Northam’s ambitious effort to redesign Monument Avenue may also hinge on the fate of the Robert E. Lee statue, which still remains uncertain after months of legal battles.
Lawsuits aimed at preventing the state from removing the Lee statue were filed, dropped, amended and refiled since the governor announced that he had instructed the Virginia Department of General Services to take it down as soon as possible in early June.
A Richmond judge sided with the state in the latest legal battle over the statue in late October, dissolving an injunction that had blocked the Confederate monument’s removal for months. Despite the decision, the Lee statue remains on its pedestal after a series of court filings.
The small group of Monument Avenue residents who filed the lawsuit submitted a notice of appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia days after the ruling. The high court has not yet decided whether it will hear the appeal. Patrick McSweeney, the attorney for the residents, did not immediately respond to 8News’ request seeking comment.
Richmond Circuit Court Judge W. Reilly Marchant originally suspended his order until after the resolution of an appeal, leading Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring to file a motion for reconsideration arguing that the court did not have the authority to stop the state from removing the Confederate monument without another injunction request from the plaintiffs.
In response, Marchant issued an amended order that restores the temporary injunction from August during the appeal process.
The plan to remove the statue from Monument Avenue, which calls for the sculpture to be “partially disassembled” into three sections, has already been unanimously approved by a state review board.
The process would require two phases, one to take down the 13-ton sculpture and another to remove the monument’s pedestal, the conservator selected by the state, B.R. Howard Conservation, said in the plan. The firm writes that based on an on-site inspection, the sculpture can be taken from its base “as a single unit,” but would need to be disassembled to “meet the highway height restrictions” during transport.
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