Georgetown University officials say their plan to turn the former Franklin School into a center for music and performing arts is the best way for D.C. to re-use the property, and the building’s neighbors downtown agree.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners for the area around Franklin voted unanimously Thursday to support a plan by the university and D.C.-based developer Thoron Capital to acquire the school from the District after Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) terminated a plan to turn the building into a contemporary art museum.
Bowser is the fourth mayor trying to redevelop the building, a former school at 13th and K streets dating to 1869. Five companies expressed interest in the project in the spring and the mayor’s office recently narrowed the list to four: Dantes Partners, Friedman Capital, Aria Development Group and Thoron.
Other proposals for the building include co-working office space and two hotel ideas. The Bowser administration aims to have construction begin in late 2017.
Georgetown’s plan for the building was based upon “the idea of bringing different arts disciplines together and letting them play off of one another,” said Robert Taylor, founder of Thoron. If selected by the District for the project, the university would move performing arts groups, continuing education classes and media programs into a new center for Technology Art and Media (TAM).
Taylor said the project would include a restaurant facing 13th Street and a performing arts center run by the operators of Bohemian Caverns, the U Street jazz hall. A rear courtyard would hold performances open to the public by professional performers and Georgetown music groups such as the school’s Post-Classical Ensemble.
In an interview after the team first submitted its ideas, Randall Bass, Georgetown vice provost for education, said the project would connect a growing array of the university’s programs downtown, including a continuing education campus near Mount Vernon Square and the law campus near judiciary square.
“The Franklin School is in a really vital part of the city,” Bass said.”We already have our school of continuing studies and of course the law center that’s close to Capitol Hill. So it makes sense for us to be engaged and it really fits this dynamic, growing notion of where the university programs operate.”
He said he envisioned collaborations at Franklin between film makers, performing artists and entrepreneurs focused on digital media.
“We think that this is a really unique opportunity to be able to bring the music and film studies work to the heart of downtown,” he said.
Under Georgetown’s plan, Thoron would lease the building from the city and renovate it. Georgetown would be the building’s main tenant.
Thoron — like the other bidders for the project — mostly lacks experience doing the large, complex historic preservation work required of Franklin. Taylor worked as a minority partner on two residential projects by Donatelli Development in Columbia Heights, Kenyon Square and Highland Park.
For the Franklin project, he has brought on D.C.-based Municipal Acquisitions, Cox Graae & Spack Architects and Gretchen Pfaehler, a historic preservation expert who chairs the District’s Historic Preservation Review Board.
Taylor said maintaining the building’s original purpose, as a school, would ease the process.
“I think one of the nice things about our proposal is that the building is a school,” Taylor said. “It’s a very comfortable undertaking rather than trying to radically change the layout of the building.”
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