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Deal to move Spy Museum to Carnegie Building falls apart

The Carnegie Library, built in 1903. (James A. Parcell/Washington Post)
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After twice failing to win approval for plans to expand the Carnegie Library on Mount Vernon Square to fit their needs, Events DC and the International Spy Museum have shelved their proposal to redevelop the building and move the museum there.

The two groups had spent months trying to forge a plan that would allow a major redevelopment and expansion of the Carnegie Building without sacrificing the historical nature of the building, which was completed in 1903 and served as the District’s central library until 1970.

But last week the D.C. Historical Preservation Review Board for the second time ruled against the redevelopment plans, with board members saying the proposal would have greatly diminish one of the city’s most famous examples of Beaux-Arts architecture.

Gregory A. O’Dell, president and chief executive  of Events DC, said in a statement jointly released by his organization and the museum that “given the constraints of time and our required program elements for the project, we can no longer continue to pursue concept approval for our proposed redevelopment plan.”

O’Dell and museum spokesman Jason Werden expressed disappointment at the stringency of the preservation review the proposal received. O’Dell said they had repeatedly tried to address concerns raised by the board but advocates fiercely opposed the proposal.

“As a result of our meetings with the review agencies and various community stakeholders, we developed multiple iterations that resulted in significant changes to our original design,” O’Dell said. “Ultimately, any further adjustments to the design would have compromised our essential program for this project or been too cost prohibitive to implement.”  

In an interview, Werden said if the plans had been changed further the museum couldn’t have succeeded in the Carnegie location. “It kind of reached the point of no return where any further implementation of the board’s recommendations actually would have harmed the project at hand,” he said.

The Spy Museum still needs to move, as its lease on F Street in Penn Quarter expires in mid-2017 and its landlord there, Douglas Development, is making other plans. Rents have risen dramatically in the neighborhood since the museum opened there 12 years ago.

Wedern said the museum is still planning to become a non-profit organization and that it has begun considering other locations. “It has not been decided. All options are open. Certainly we would like to stay in the District of Columbia,” Werden said.

Events DC will instead to continue to manage the Carnegie Library as a place for private events and offices for the Historical Society of Washington.

Follow Jonathan O’Connell on Twitter: @oconnnellpostbiz