DC Mayor Scraps Plans for New Franklin School Contemporary Art Museum

The Franklin School. Photo: Magnus Manske, via Wikipedia.
The Franklin School. Photo: Magnus Manske, via Wikipedia.

Plans to turn the former home of the Franklin School in Washington, D.C., into a contemporary art exhibition space have been cancelled by the new mayor, Muriel Bowser, reports the Washington Post. The city is now seeking bids from other parties interested in the redevelopment of the crumbling brick building.

Former mayor Vincent C. Gray had pegged local art collector Dani Levinas to run the project, which was expected to cost $13.2 million. Working with developer Anthony Lanier, Levinas was raising the necessary funds from wealthy donors, and had the support of the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission and council member, Jack Evans. When Bowser took office just over a month ago, however, her economic development staff took the project under review.

“I have no idea why they did it,” Levinas, who is stunned by the city’s decision to pull the plug, told the Post. “And the thing is, there is no way to figure it out. This building has been sitting empty for seven years, and if they start the process again it will take another two years.” Levinas denied city claims that he was behind on his fundraising, but was unable to present his project to the administration before learning of its demise via an e-mail. “I thought we were going to sit down and negotiate,” he said.

In an e-mail to the Post, Joaquin McPeek, a spokesperson for the mayor, cited concerns that a new museum with paid admission would have difficulty competing with the free Smithsonian museums—understandable, considering the recent demise of the Corcoran, one of the nation’s oldest museums (see Corcoran Gallery of Art Dissolution Leaves Thousands of Orphaned Artworks. Who Gets Them? and National Gallery of Art Acquires Thousands of Works From the Corcoran Collection).

Plans to redevelop the Franklin School have been hamstrung by historic preservation rules, which preclude its use as a hotel or office building. The building also requires significant renovations given its previous use as a homeless shelter. Before Bowser and Gray, mayors Adrian M. Fenty and Anthony A. Williams also attempted to redevelop the site.

“All that we wanted to do was something that would compliment the city,” said Levinas mournfully. For now, however, its back to the drawing board for the Franklin School.

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