The new information shows that the financially struggling Corcoran began contemplating a move to a larger, more affordable space at least 11 months before publicly disclosing the deliberations and 11 months before the gallery’s board of trustees voted to authorize its staff to scout locations and to test the market for selling the Beaux-Arts landmark building on 17th Street NW, near the White House.
The board has been fully informed of the process since at least spring 2011, said Harry Hopper, chairman of the board, showing a reporter a document from a board meeting dated June 2011. Under the heading “Ideal Scenario,” the document listed “Stay in building.” Scenarios B and C were to sell the building and buy a property for renovation or build a facility.
A board vote was not necessary to authorize the preliminary outreach to the District and Alexandria, Hopper said, likening those conversations to staff members doing their “homework” on possibilities. The board’s vote in June marked the beginning of a formal phase that has included hiring a real estate broker to sift through offers and to vet locations.
The effort has yielded no concrete proposals; the broker has been at work less than a month. Corcoran executives say their priorities include staying in the building, if it is financially feasible, preserving the Corcoran’s legacy and forging a sustainable future for the gallery and its related Corcoran College of Art and Design.
Alexandria’s waterfront — the subject of the most speculative buzz on both sides of the Potomac River — seems increasingly unlikely, but Corcoran executives would not rule out any possibility.
“There’s nothing that has been brought to our attention that would be the basis for engaging with Alexandria,” Hopper said. “Yes, there were conversations with Alexandria, which, frankly, were driven more by them than by us.”
Officials in Alexandria agreed that the odds are against them.
“We view ourselves as a long shot, because we think the impetus is probably to stay in D.C.,” said Val Hawkins, president and chief executive of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, who has led the city’s courtship of the Corcoran.