City buys Phoenix Bank

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 14, 2002

The city now owns the historically rich Phoenix Bank of Nansemond at 339 E. Washington St.

&uot;We own it …and plan to carry out the community-based plan that calls for it to become an African-American museum,&uot; said Elizabeth McCoury, the city’s director of downtown development.

A group of citizens will begin studying the proposal for it to become a black history museum in January, she said.

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The city paid $32,000 for the dilapidated building that once housed the first financial institution for the city’s black community. The bank, opened in 1911 by a black man, John W. Richardson, eventually fell victim to the tough economic times of the Great Depression and closed in 1937.

About two weeks ago, the city closed its deal with building’s owner Pazel Jackson, a Brooklyn, N.Y. resident who inherited the property.

Although city leaders have long eyed the building for a museum, serious talks with Jackson didn’t begin until last June after the city learned that local businessman Andy Damiani had a contract on the structure.

He said he had already put a down-payment on the building and that lawyers had been contacted about drawing up papers when the city stepped into the picture.

On Wednesday, Damiani said the incident still frustrates him.

&uot;I’m still upset,&uot; he said. &uot;It’s not about the fact that I lost a piece of property.

&uot;It’s about the fact that I lost it because the city interfered at the last moment. It’s the principle of the matter.

&uot;I’m disappointed as a private citizen …and I think the city was unreasonable and unfair in its actions.&uot;

Damiani said he considered taking legal action against the city.

&uot;I never took any but the option is still open,&uot; Damiani said. &uot;I feel I was not treated fairly.

&uot;Fighting city hall is hard. It has a lot more resources than a small business man.&uot;