|By Louis Llovio, Richmond Times-Dispatch,
Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
July 25, 2012--RICHMOND, Va. -- Construction on the First Freedom Center complex, a combined hotel and educational center on one of the most significant historical sites in downtown, is expected to begin early next year.
The complex, which won Richmond City Council approval Monday night, is a joint project of First Freedom Center and Richmond-based hotel owner and operator Apple REIT Cos.
The six-story project on East Cary and 14th streets includes two hotels and an education center on the site where the Virginia General Assembly passed Thomas Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786.
The statute was a cornerstone of the First Amendment to the Constitution.
"Jefferson did this on this piece of ground, and from here it has radiated out across the country and around the whole world," said Randolph Bell, the center's president.
"We want the center to be a manifestation of that unique Richmond linkage to the world through this ideal."
When completed, the center will house permanent and traveling exhibits as well an auditorium and meeting space. First Freedom's mission is to advance freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.
Apple REIT, a real estate investment trust focused on ownership of upscale, extended-stay and select-service hotels across the country, will build a 135-room Courtyard by Marriott and a 75-room Residence Inn by Marriott at the center.
The hotel space will include a religious freedom library "and other features responding to the educational mission of the overall complex."
Plans include a landscaped piazza and, at Cary and 14th streets, a prominent monument to religious freedom, a large, engraved-glass citation from the Virginia Statute, and other features.
The piazza will include tables and benches.
Bell said the center, which has owned the property for several years, considered several options before meeting with Apple REIT and developing the current plan.
"At a time when many nonprofits are under strain, we feel that, by virtue of this cooperation, we will be in place to keep pursing our mission," Bell said.
Justin Knight, president of Apple REIT, said the company's next step will be finalizing construction plans and getting the proper permitting now that the complex has received City Council approval.
"We anticipate that will take several months," Knight said.
He expects to hold a ceremonial groundbreaking later this year. Actual construction would begin early next year.
LLLovio@timesdispatch.com (804) 649-6348
(c)2012 the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Richmond, Va.)
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