African arts museum and 26-story hotel could come to downtown Norfolk near Harbor Park

Virginia News
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NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — An African arts and culture museum and adjacent 26-story hotel is the latest project planned on the Elizabeth River waterfront near Harbor Park. 

The news of the proposed African Museum of Arts and Culture comes less than a month after the Pamunkey Indian Tribe announced it plans to open a roughly $700 million “world-class” casino to an area of land on the opposite side of the home of the Norfolk Tides. 

The Foundation for the Advancement of African Descendants, the group behind the museum, says it will cost roughly $300 million and feature art and artifacts from 13 African countries displayed through 26,000 square feet of exhibit space. Plans also include a 4,000 square foot library and research lab, a theater, classrooms, banquet areas and other spaces, according to a press release from the foundation.

A 26-story hotel will also be constructed next to the museum. They also touted the project will feature “advanced green energy technology.”

It’s a project that’s been more than five years in the works, according to Richard James, the secretary and board member of the foundation. James says the $300 million cost will be funded by combination of funds from The National Endowment for the Arts, the United Nations, philanthropists and the 13 countries involved with the project, which he says will be released soon. 

“Today the city of Norfolk is a location, but this project will turn the city of Norfolk into a destination for people around the world,” James said. The foundation, a nonprofit founded in Norfolk in 2015 in an effort to create the museum and “render humanitarian assistance to disadvantage people all over the world.”

Those humanitarian initatives include help with natural disasters, schools, food and medicine and health care, according to the nonprofit’s website.

“Art and artifacts should not be put on shelves and hidden in closets. The elements of our rich culture are for people to enjoy, study and to learn about what came before us,” James said. “The 13 countries involved in the project are eager to share their art and artifacts with us.

WAVY reports.

The proposed build site is on land west of Harbor Park, between the park and the Berkley Bridge. The casino is slated for the east side of the park. 

James emphasized the area’s strong African-American culture, its location between major regions such as Washington D.C. and Atlanta, and Norfolk’s international airport and cruise ship terminal.  

“We have a very rich culture, we have an international airport here, we’re a six-hour drive from New York City, four hours from Washington, D.C. and only eight hours from Atlanta, Georgia … we have an AMTRAK train station where someone can ride down from Boston and we have a cruise terminal where people can come from around the world.”

James says he’s also very aware of concerns with flooding in Norfolk, and says Norfolk-based Livas Group Architects was selected to design the project. 

“We’ve been this site many times to learn how to deal with that flooding issue, to make sure if won’t affect this site. We’ve done our due diligence over the last six years.” 

Norfolk leaders will also have to approve the project before anything moves forward as it is city owned land. 

“We received the proposal for an African Museum of Art and Culture from the Foundation for the Advancement of African Descendants on January 14,” said Lori Crouch, a spokeswoman with the City of Norfolk. “We are currently reviewing the information and look forward to working with Foundation members to better understand their proposal.”

The city will focus on working through infrastructure and transit demands of the proposed Pamunkey casino first before diving into another major development, according to Crouch. 

In a letter sent to Norfolk City Manager Doug Smith on Monday, the foundation wrote that they will require the city to convey the land to the foundation for a sum. The project’s success also will require the city to provide adequate parking, an additional light rail stop and the extension of Waterside Drive to the site, according to the letter. 

James didn’t have a specific timeline for the approval or construction of the project, but added the next step is a meeting next week between the foundation and the 13 member countries at a United Nations World Tourism Organization conference in Madrid, Spain.

“The goal is to create partnerships, and not only to create partnerships, but to help the United Nations World Tourism Organization to put a positive brand on the continent of Africa and bring art history to the city of Norfolk for the world to enjoy.” 

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