The former Franklin School, a stately brick building overlooking Franklin Square, would become a contemporary art museum under a plan announced Monday by D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D).
In a press release, the mayor announced that he had selected a plan by prominent Washington-based art collector and businessman Dani Levinas to turn the vacant and decaying building into what Levinas calls the Institute for Contemporary Expression.
The project, to be built by D.C. developer EastBanc, features a ground-floor restaurant by famed chef José Andrés. Once the building’s restoration is complete, the project’s backers plan to open the museum (sometimes referred to as a kunsthalle) five days a week and charge around $10 a ticket for entrance, though many of the details are still being ironed out.
“Franklin School is a historic treasure, and we are excited to have a team that will preserve its character while also creating an innovative, cultural experience for the surrounding community and the District as a whole,” Gray said in the release. “It will complement and enhance the District’s already vibrant cultural offerings.”
Gray’s choice is one that members of the community around Franklin Square supported. But financially, the hard work begins now for the museum project. Estimates for the cost of rehabilitating the building — once used as a homeless shelter — run from around $15 million to more than $30 million.
Levinas and his partners will to need to raise at least $10 million to $15 million to restore the building and ICE would still be subject to the difficulties of operating a pay-for-entry museum in a town that boasts a number of free museums. Another art museum that charges, the Corcoran Gallery of Art, has repeatedly faced financial pinches in recent years.
Gray chose the concept over competing proposals from companies including the data firm CoStar Group and D.C. developer Douglas Development. The selection gives EastBanc, headed by Anthony Lanier, projects on four prominent D.C.-owned properties: Franklin School, the former Hine school on Capitol Hill, and a library and fire station in the West End. EastBanc hasn’t begun construction on the other three, and if it cannot execute the ICE project for Franklin, Gray will risk repeating a mistake made by his predecessor, Adrian Fenty, who chose a development plan that fell apart.
Victor L. Hoskins, D.C. deputy mayor for planning and economic development, said in the release that the project “will create new jobs and provide educational and mentoring programs as well as new retail amenities. It will also create a new destination and tourist attraction in synergy with Franklin Square Park.”
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