By Jacqueline Trescott and Ovetta Wiggins
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, July 27, 2007
The National Children's Museum announced yesterday that it has agreed to move across the Potomac to Prince George's County, the second D.C. landmark to be lured away by developers of the National Harbor project in recent months.
The move offers a permanent home for the museum that has had a vagabond existence since closing its Capitol Hill building three years ago and provides another reason for tourists and residents to visit the $2 billion development rising along the riverbank.
"The waterfront location is wonderful, and, combined with the forest area, it provides extraordinary outdoor venues for the museum and visitors," said Kathy Dwyer Southern, the museum's president. The museum will occupy 140,000 square feet, and its officials will revive a fundraising campaign to secure $130 million. They plan to open the facility in 2012.
For National Harbor developer Milton Peterson, the contract with the Children's Museum marks the success of "many months" of negotiations with the staff and members of the museum board. The museum will help link the riverfront project to the nation's capital, a concept that Peterson has been hammering home in public appearances and private meetings with other potential tenants.
The museum will eventually occupy a prominent spot on the main thoroughfare of the National Harbor town center and will have a designated slip on the main pier on the Potomac, which can be used for educational tours for children. The museum will anchor a section of the project dubbed "Kids Village," which could eventually have a children and family-oriented hotel and a theater and art exhibits geared toward youngsters.
To help lure the museum from sites it had been considering in the District, Peterson said he would give the museum the land, enabling it to concentrate its fundraising on construction and startup costs. The museum also is seeking as much as $40 million in financial incentives from the county and state and other public sources, officials involved in the deal said yesterday.
Prince George's officials said they are delighted about the museum's decision to move across the river. "This shows Prince George's is on the move," said Jim Keary, a spokesman for County Executive Jack B. Johnson (D). "And there are so many other things that are on the horizon."
Some D.C. officials questioned the move.
"We're mystified by the National Children's Museum's decision to relocate to Prince George's County," said Mafara Hobson, spokeswoman for Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). "The move definitely puts the museum in a position to serve fewer children, whereas the District is a central location with a great deal of Metro accessibility."
D.C. Council Member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), who represented the district where the museum was once located, said: "I'm very sorry to hear it is moving out of the District. It's a great loss. . . . But I guess they had to make a business decision."
It's not the only thing headed to Prince George's. In the spring, Peterson announced that he had bought "The Awakening" sculpture for $750,000 in a confidential agreement with the Sculpture Foundation and that he plans to make it part of his waterfront development.
The sculpture had been at Hains Point since 1980 and was considered part of the landscape there. Also, the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, set to open at National Harbor in April, has drawn many of the District's hotel and convention bookings.
The children's museum, founded almost 30 years ago, left its home near Union Station in 2004. It was a victim of the surging development along the H Street NE corridor and the expectations of young visitors who wanted more bells and whistles. The property was sold for $24 million.
The next plan was to relocate to L'Enfant Plaza and open a state-of-the-art museum in 2008. But, Southern said, "the developers simply got to a point in time when their plans and timelines changed significantly," she said. "They came to us and shared that with us, and we did continue conversations with them."
Southern said the museum is abandoning property in the city, not the residents. When it opened, she said, visitors were equally divided among residents of the District, Maryland and Virginia.
"We will continue our strong legacy of serving kids in the region, and the city's kids are a very important family to us," Southern said.
In the meantime, the museum will continue to be "a museum without walls," organizing traveling exhibits and programs in schools.
Staff writer Anita Huslin contributed to this report.