The National Children’s Museum is moving back to the District next year, just two years after its move to Prince George’s County, officials said Monday.
Ross Hechinger, chair of the museum’s board of directors, said the institution is seeking a home near a Metro station and space to expand its exhibits and programs and grow its visitor base.
“Obviously we regret to have to do this, but it is the best decision for us at this time,” Hechinger said.
The museum opened its doors at National Harbor in December 2012, providing yet another reason for tourists and Washington area residents to visit the growing development in southern Prince George’s.
Since the opening, the museum has welcomed more than 250,000 visitors, but museum officials say the waterfront location, which easily reached from the Capital Beltway and Interstate 295, also presents challenges: It is too far from Metro and has limited access to public transit, which makes it difficult for a wider number of children to visit. In addition, the museum has not been able to secure an affordable space at the harbor where it can expand, Hechinger said.
By moving back to the District, officials say, the museum will be able to find a centrally located and transit-accessible location where it can better serve more children.
The move is a blow to Prince George’s, which has invested $2.8 million in the museum through financial incentives. The county viewed the museum’s arrival two years ago as an important addition to the mix of entertainment options at National Harbor and a D.C. landmark that would potentially draw more visitors and residents.
“Although we are sorry to see them go, we appreciate them coming to Prince George’s County and being one of the first major institutions to realize that National Harbor was quickly becoming one of the region’s most popular destinations,” Scott Peterson, a county spokesman, said in a statement. “We wish them well as they return to Washington, D.C.”
When the museum announced the move to National Harbor in 2007, the plan was to build a 140,000-square-foot facility, but the museum’s fundraising campaign to secure $130 million needed was hurt by the recession.
The museum opened in an 18,000-square-foot space in a building on St. George Boulevard, with hopes of building a larger space. Hechinger said over the past two years it became clear the museum would not be able to afford a lease or building prices at the growing entertainment hub, which is soon to also be home to a massive casino resort.
“It became difficult to raise funds privately,” Hechinger said. “We just said it is not going be feasible to raise that kind of money.”
Prince George’s County officials and Peterson Companies, the National Harbor developer, said they look forward to new opportunities for the museum space.
“We’ve worked closely alongside the National Children’s Museum for years to help them work toward their mission to create a world-class children’s museum at National Harbor. Their desire to seek an alternate location comes as no surprise and we wish them much success,” said Angela Sweeney, a spokeswoman for Peterson Companies.
“With the extraordinary momentum in the past year, including the opening of Tanger Outlets, the Capital Wheel and the commencement of construction for MGM National Harbor, we have numerous options for additional retail and office space,” she said.
The search for a new location in the District is ongoing, Hechinger. He declined to provide details about when and where the museum will move.
District officials said they welcome the museum’s return.
D.C. Council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) said in a statement that he anticipates the District’s new administration “will be eager to embrace such an important institution that will benefit children of all ages for years to come.”
Former D.C. mayor Anthony A. Williams said, “A new location in D.C. will mean all children, regardless of their Zip code, will be able to walk through the museum’s doors and be inspired.”
Before moving to National Harbor, the institution functioned as a “museum without walls,” focusing on community outreach and partnerships in events such as the White House Easter Egg Roll. Founded as the Capital Children’s Museum in 1974, the museum closed its location near Union Station in 2004, as a result of surging development along the H Street NE corridor.
The museum focuses on programs for children age 10 and younger. It has more than 2,000 members from across the Washington region.