Corcoran shelves plans to move college to Randall School

By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Corcoran Gallery of Art announced Wednesday that plans to move its College of Art and Design to a vacant school in Southwest Washington have been shelved and that it has sold the building.

Corcoran officials said the historic Randall School was sold for $6.5 million to a partnership of the D.C. development firm Telesis and art collectors Mera and Don Rubell's CACG Holdings. Among the plans for the site, Mera Rubell said, is a museum of contemporary art.

The Corcoran bought the school building from the District in 2006 for $6.2 million.

"This is a financial decision," said Fred Bollerer, the Corcoran's chief operating officer. "The deal we had with the original developer fell through when financing for that deal went away. It went from a hot market to a dead market in a short period of time."

Randall hasn't been used as a school since 1978; since then it has been, at various times, a men's shelter and a space for artists. Mera Rubell, whose family-owned Capitol Skyline Hotel sits cater-cornered from the site, watched proposals come and go. "Then this opportunity came, and it has always been a fantasy to have a satellite museum in Washington," said Rubell, who has an expansive personal collection of contemporary art and runs a museum in Miami. "It is an exciting opportunity in challenging times. To pull this off would be a big deal."

In addition to a 20,000-square-foot museum, said Marilyn Melkonian, Telesis's president, the partnership's plans include a hotel and residences. "We want to fulfill some of the original expectations of the Corcoran, the neighborhood and the city," she said. "The initial interest of the Corcoran to bring the arts to that area was something we shared."

"We are enchanted with the historic aspect and will preserve the entire front," said Mera Rubell, who also said she is interested in trying something new when many arts institutions are financially strapped. "We want to create a new paradigm where the financial activities support the privilege of an arts facility and create jobs."

The Corcoran is continuing to look for more space for its college, which had a historic high enrollment of 571 students last fall. The gallery, which includes the Corcoran's museum and college, has an annual budget of $24 million and expects a modest shortfall before the fiscal year ends in June.

Later this year, the Corcoran is presenting a traveling show of contemporary African American artists from the Rubell Family Collection. Officials said the exhibition is not related to the sale.

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