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First Freedom Center to Miss 2007 

"The money is there; it just took us longer to bring it in," Elliott says.

But the council is pleased with its fund-raising efforts so far. It's received $7.1 million in written pledges. The plan is to raise $10 million from Virginia donors, with the remainder coming from national donors and sponsors. The national campaign begins early next year.

"We've had a very successful beginning of the effort here in the Richmond area," Elliott says. "Gratiftyingly, the support has been there."

In addition to missing the 2007 goal, the project has been scaled back. The plan for a religious freedom monument designed by Michael Graves of Target fame is on the back burner, says Laura Baliles, the council's communications director.

The educational center, also known as the First Freedom Center, will include a domelike structure with a giant skylight in the ceiling for a dramatic flair, Baliles says — a "shining light on the issue of religious freedom." Only schematics have been completed so far. The design-development phase starts in mid-2005, Elliott says, and probably will take a year to complete.

The council's sister apartment project at the southwest corner of 14th and Main streets is moving along swiftly. Renovations to the 19th-century storefronts began in November, and are expected to be complete in the fall of 2005.

Elliott expects the national campaign to bear significant fruit for the education center. In a national poll sponsored by the council, 52 percent of those surveyed ranked freedom of religion as the most important constitutional right other than free speech. The poll received significant coverage from the USA Today and other national media outlets.

"Ultimately, the success of the project is getting the support," Elliott says. "Twenty years from now, no one is going to remember whether it opened in 2007 or 2008." — Scott Bass
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