Phoenix project on track

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 27, 2005

More plans and a new phase await the old Phoenix Bank of Nansemond as the restoration project enters a new set of steps geared toward turning the vacant bank into the Suffolk African-American History Museum.

At the last City Council meeting, it was announced that a National Park Service grant totaling more than $98,000 had been received for the next phase of the project.

Matching funds, as part of the city’s 2005-06 Fairgrounds Revitalization Project budget, will be added to the National Park Service grant.

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This second phase is a feasibility study that will include advertising and interviewing for architectural services, reviewing proposals, negotiating a contract with an architect, and then actually having the newly hired architect conduct a feasibility study and this large set of steps will finish with making the study results public.

According to project coordinator Jeryl Phillips, even if things go to plan, this phase will take a year to 18 months to complete.

The grant money will also finance the step following the feasibility study, which will preliminary designing and making up construction documents, which will run into spring 2007.

The first step in the process, a historic structure report, has been completed and the report, &uot;did a great job of learning the history of the building&uot; said Phillips.

&uot;That history will certainly be part of the renovation process when it begins,&uot; said Phillips.

The bank’s history dates back to 1911, when Dr. W. T. Fuller founded the African-American bank on East Washington Street.

While in operation, it provided commercial and financial services to Suffolk’s black laborers and farmers.

In 1921, John Richardson became the second president the bank.

This, while maintaining his night job as janitor at a white-only bank across town.

The Phoenix Bank of Nansemond closed in 1937, a victim of the Great Depression.

The building has been mostly vacant since it closed.

Today, the building is listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

Congressman J. Randy Forbes has been involved in the process and states the overall goal of the planned museum in a February 25, 2005 editorial on his website, &uot;In the coming months and years this brick building will be transformed into the Suffolk African-American History Museum to showcase African-American contributions in commerce and trade, farming, education, medicine and religion.&uot;

The new museum is a component of the Downtown Initiatives Plan, Suffolk’s long-range land use plan through 2018.

It is expected that the first floor will be restored to the original bank layout; an addition to the existing building will add exhibit and museum space.