Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Speaking of planning for cultural facilities in Downtown DC (and the FBI building site)

The previous entry mentions (1) the desires of the Washington Wizards professional basketball team to have a separate practice facility, not in but close to the arena.  That entry also mentions (2) the dearth of public recreational facilities downtown, where the base of residents continues to increase.

Separately, (3) the central library is in the midst of a planning process for the building's rehabilitation and expansion ("MLK Library Will Need Twice as Much Space as Expected," Washington City Paper).

And I know that  a particular (4) international cultural center based Downtown is seeking new space as their lease is up, and they are being priced out of their great location.

Plus, (5) the International Spy Museum's lease is running out and they need more space anyway ("International Spy Museum is at a crossroads as it looks for a new place to call home," Washington Post).

The Spy Museum's need is more pronounced after the attempt to move to the Carnegie Library site was scuttled because the plan they had developed in association with Events DC, the city's convention facilities and promotion organization, did not meet muster with planning review due to the building's historic designation ("Deal to move Spy Museum to Carnegie Building falls apart," Post).

Need for DC long range cultural facilities plan and planning.  Related to the failures in local capital improvement planning is the failure to do truly long range planning for cultural facilities, especially for facilities based in the central business district, where space is very expensive and without subsidies is often too expensive for cultural organizations, even though it is beneficial for the city for such organizations to be based in such prominent and highly accessible locations.

This is exacerbated because typically, jurisdictions don't plan beyond their own needs and include within plans recommendations for facilities not owned or controlled by the local jurisdiction.  In a center city like Washington, where multiple actors--multiple federal agencies, nonprofits of all types and financing capacities, foreign organizations including embassies, and the city government and its various agencies--have facilities or seek to locate them downtown, this gap in purview can have particularly pronounced effects.

For example, a "National Bible Museum" is being developed by well-resourced religion proponents ("Family Behind Hobby Lobby Has New Project: Bible Museum," New York Times) while the proposed Armenian Genocide Museum of America has owned a well-located building in Downtown DC which has been siting derelict for almost two decades.  A few years ago, the National Children's Museum left DC for National Harbor, and the Corcoran Gallery just went out of business ("R.I.P Corcoran Gallery," Los Angeles Times).

A wide ranging plan should cover the facilities needs for all types of cultural institutions, not just those controlled by the city government. I make this point also for libraries (see "A follow up point about library planning versus access to knowledge") and parks ("Federal shutdown as another example of why local jurisdictions should have more robust contingency and master planning processes").

The FBI site as an opportunity to add cultural facility space downtown.  Separately, the General Services Administration is seeking new space for the relocation of the FBI, currently located in a large site on Pennsylvania Avenue.

And the National Capital Planning Commission is in the process of updating their plan for Pennsylvania Avenue ("Pennsylvania Avenue DC planning initiative"  and "Could bringing premier regionally headquartered business enterprises to the Pennsylvania Avenue Corridor be key to its renewal and revitalization?").

Moving the FBI will free up the equivalent of four blocks of space, with two blocks of frontage on Pennsylvania Avenue.  Some of this space could be allocated for the support of new and existing cultural facilities, if the planning started now.

Note that this could be complemented by the idea to move the FTC and give its building to the National Gallery of Art and the adaptive reuse of the Old Post Office Building into a hotel by Trump interests ("A Trump Makeover for Washington's Old Post Office," New York Times), along with the Newseum, which is already prominently located on Pennsylvania Avenue.

But long range plans aren't helpful when your space needs are immediate.  Plus, the Central Library could be expanded and include space for international cultural organizations or even the Spy Museum.  But it will take years for new space in that building or the FBI building (10 years?) to become available.

All the more reason to have been engaged in long range cultural facilities planning all along.

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