“I’ll stick around to see that it’s done,” he said recently over breakfast in the House dining room. “I’m a persistent [expletive].” The newly anointed chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee folded his long arms, a pinkie ring glistening on his right hand. He repeated, even more softly: “I’m a persistent [expletive].”
His new chairmanship makes him Capitol Hill’s overseer of all air, land and sea travel, but he also has purview over federal buildings and leasing. And through that portfolio, Mica is in an ideal position to work his will on the Federal Triangle.
Thus has begun an epic turf battle in Washington, a town-gown clash between federal workers and arts patrons. Not since the Nationals’ stadium remapped Southeast has there been so much public squabbling over a piece of real estate.
Arguments for and against
For the National Gallery, Mica’s quest would land it an additional 300,000 square feet of space, taking it from two buildings to three. At that scale, the museum would approach the grandeur and services of its counterparts in New York, Chicago, Paris or Madrid. “It would be very much in the spirit of European art museums — old structures that served a purpose of the nobility,” explained Mica’s predecessor as committee chairman, James L. Oberstar, the Minnesota Democrat whose long tenure ended with his November defeat.
“He clearly has a vision. I think it is inspiring,” said National Gallery Director Earl A. “Rusty” Powell III, careful to neither gloat nor growl. Powell would stay right where he is in the I.M. Pei-designed East Wing, with a Capitol panorama and a foggy Diebenkorn visible from his desk. The FTC commissioners’ prime office space, with communal balcony, is not what he’s after. “Certainly none of us were thinking, ‘Gosh, there’s the FTC building, let’s go for it,’ ” he said.
The National Gallery would not spend a single federal penny to convert the Apex, according to the plan; benefactors would pony up $200 million to adapt the building and preserve its Art Deco essence. An education facility would occupy the first floor, with storage for the 105,000 works on paper above that. Exhibition space would take advantage of the third floor’s high ceilings, with a photography center just above it. The seventh floor would house a restaurant with hand-over-your-heart views of the Capitol. Three-quarters of the building would be open to the public.