Photo by NCinDC on Flickr.
DC economic development officials have selected a bid to turn the Franklin School into a modern art center that will host temporary exhibitions.
The plan comes from a prominent collector, Dani Levinas; developer EastBanc will turn the former school into the museum. It will include a ground floor restaurant by José Andrés, Jonathan O’Connell reported in the Washington Post.
Levinas’ bid won out over proposals to turn the building into a boutique hotel, by Douglas Development; a technology start-up center; and offices for the company CoStar.
A flexible arts space, known as a “kunsthalle,” is something many arts organizations in DC had asked for. Leaders of the Phillips Collection and Hirshhorn Museum noted that many arts organizations don’t have enough flexible space for temporary installations.
There had been significant community support for the idea, which would be the only one to keep the beautiful and historic interior open to the general public. Phillip Kennicott extolled the idea, noting that the interior spaces didn’t really lend themselves to office or hotel, and therefore the hotel would have few yet very elite rooms.
On the other hand, a number of people on Twitter were left scratching their heads to some extent. According to O’Connell, the museum will be a nonprofit, meaning it won’t pay taxes; only the restaurant and gift shop will. Another use would have brought in a lot of tax revenue in a city where a huge proportion of downtown space is tax-exempt, either government or nonprofit.
And even if local museums say they need more space, is even more exhibition space the best way to activate the area? (It’s probably better than more offices, particularly than for CoStar, which had a building and sold it for a huge profit after getting a very large DC tax break.)
Finances were paramount when the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) passed over JBG’s plans for 965 Florida Avenue NW. JBG wanted to bring in a Harris Teeter, something neighbors wanted, and reconnect W Street, which is part of the city’s plans.
Instead, the economic development office chose another plan by MRP Realty. According to reports, they did so because MRP could offer more money. Fortunately, in the other big development news today, JBG and MRP reached a deal to work together, still bring in the Harris Teeter, and still extend W Street.
Back in November, Kennicott called the “kunsthalle” proposal a “dark horse” because it seemed less lucrative for the District. He didn’t expect it to win out, given that. Levinas and team will still have to raise a lot of money, at least $10 million, to make the project work.
Others say the school should actually become a school, given the growing number of families downtown, its Metro-accessible location, and the fact that many charter schools could serve more students but can’t find space. An education use might serve the public interest even more, but at much greater cost.
What do you think?