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.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Moving the pieces on the Growth Machine chess board or an anti-art move by DC's mayor?

Franklin School, DC.

There is a bunch of remonstration about how DC's new Mayor, Muriel Bowser, has blocked a number of previous development deals inked by the previous administration ("Bowser team puts hold on five projects awarded by Gray," Washington Business Journal),  the latest cancellation  ("Franklin School competition reopened as D.C. formally cancels museum bid," WBJ) being of a project to end the multi-decades languishing of the Franklin School.

That proposal was to reopen the building as the Institute of Contemporary Expression, to showcase the work of contemporary artists in a city that has limited venues to display such work because of how the national museums (National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, National Portrait Gallery, and the Hirshorn Museum) and the smaller local museums (Phillips Gallery, etc.) are set up to work.

Washington Post cultural critic Philip Kennicott argues in "Mayor Muriel E. Bowser's killing of DC cultural project shows only money matters," that the decision to start over is out of a desire for the city to make more money from the project.

At first I was a little skeptical of the ICE concept, but I think it's worth considering, and an even stronger case could be made for such an institution and city support if the city had a comprehensive cultural programming and facilities plan.

(An interesting take on the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao suggests that contemporary arts museums tend to have the best return on investment in terms of tourism, compared to other cultural institutions.  See "Art for Whose Sake? Modern Art Museums and their Role in Transforming Societies: The Case of the Guggenheim Bilbao," Journal of Museum and Conservation Studies.)

I don't think that wanting to make more money from the site is the real issue, although that might be a consequence of the decision (probably not, because the building's monetary value is constrained in many ways).

I believe that what is going on with the decisions to review or restart the bid process for these properties has to do not with trying to get more money from the developers, but has to do more with a changing of the guard, and the opportunity the new administration has to favor a different set of developers than those that had been the favorites of previous administrations--Eastbanc got a bunch of hot sites during the Fenty and Gray Administrations.

Eastbanc, the Georgetown-based firm shepherding this project, also is the lead on the Hine redevelopment project in Capitol Hill which has many neighbors up in arms but as Mayor Bowser said in a recent community meeting is too far along to stop according to the Capitol Hill Corner blog. This is a way for the city to slap Eastbanc, which may be slightly satisfying to Capitol Hill residents.

I argue that these actions are merely an example of the newly even more empowered members of the Growth Machine flexing their muscles and favoring their supporters.  Or as The Who sang in the song "Won't get fooled again," "meet the new boss, same as the old boss."  The end results, the actions are the same, but the actors and maybe the terms have changed a little bit.

Regarding the Growth Machine see:

-- A superb lesson in DC "growth machine" politics
-- That damn Growth Machine: developers, incentives, givebacks, accountability

A lesson from the Franklin School about community benefits agreements and proffers

Ironically, the Franklin School is a great example of a previous failure to adequately leverage DC government owned properties when development opportunities come along.  Many years ago, the adjacent office building (shown to the left in the photo above) was built with zoning bonuses and as part of the agreement, the developers paid to fix the facade of the Franklin School.

The exterior was fixed, but not the interior, which continued to moulder, and was further abused when it served as a homeless shelter.

An event in Hurlbutt Memorial Hall, Sumner Museum and Archives.

By contrast, leasing the old playground of the Sumner School for a new for profit office building not only generated money for the school system, but as part of the deal, the developer agreed to renovate the Sumner School building, which is now home of the DCPS archives and museum, and also to maintain this building for the 99-year life of the lease (given how DC Government tends to minimally maintain buildings, this is a huge win for the city).

So the school system got money from the lease, gets money from the ground lease year after year, and got a renewed cultural facility serving the school system and the city, and free maintenance of that building for 99 years.

Which type of deal, for Franklin School or for Sumner School, was better for the city?

Granted, the city didn't have the same amount of leverage concerning Franklin School.  But as I've argued about the community benefits agreement negotiation process, if we had consensus priorities set in advance for the various areas of the city, we could better direct proffers in ways that have significant long term and structural change value for the various districts and neighborhoods of the city.

Focusing proffers towards fixing Franklin School and rehabilitating downtown parks (albeit owned by the National Park Service which creates other problems) would have had significant long term value Downtown, instead of the patchwork of benefits that have been received.

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At 10:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

museums do a lot more to bring improvements to cities than sports stadiums that cost super big bucks and saddle the average joes and janes with more damn tax liabilities. Again- Bowser is showing her Ward 9 proclivities by making this stupid decision. Although this would likely NOT be the kind of art I would like or go to view- I still support more emphasis on the visual arts as it is ignored in this city and yet it brings in huge dollars . Again the ward 9 junta has absolutely no cultural affinity for art museums or anything cultural other than maybe go go or U streets heritage district. They are averse to true and international diversity and are only interested in thier own slanted views. Give them box seating at a new sports facility and they are happy.Art museums are only for honkies.

At 11:08 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I think you need to read this in context with the 965 Florida delay and also the Grimke delay.

Yes, blatant extortion.

That said, this sounds like another artisphere disaster in the making.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

1. Yes, this is just switching out old connected actors for a different set of new connected actors.

2. I don't think artisphere was a disaster... It was wrong headed to expect it to break even or make money. It was an interesting move as an element of rebranding Rosslyn.

However, Rosslyn is what it is and it is pretty premature to have "attractions" like Rosslyn the way it is now. At night, it's not a destination. I don't know it well, but there is Continental, what else is there?

Anyway, a friend said something more than 15 years ago, long before I was involved in CD revitalization, that really stuck with me.

He said when you go out, you don't to a specific establishment as much as you go to a "district" with multiple establishments, because if for whatever reason "it isn't happening" at the place you go to first, there are many other places you can go to instead, your night isn't wasted.

(E.g., the old Love Club was a destination. People had to stay once they went there because there weren't other alternatives. So it's why it ended up becoming "a destination" for nonresidents and less of a place relying on repeat business from frequent [local] customers.)

So artisphere was about 4-10 years too early, and not enough, along w/Continental, to make Rosslyn a night time destination.

The thing is, not being honest with yourselves about the likelihood of success at a particular time ends up scotching the ability to do something like this in the future, because everyone calls it a failure and they don't draw nuanced enough lessons about why it failed, and how to not fail in the future.

At 11:43 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

With the proposal for ICE, my reservation would be that DC doesn't have a good track record for supporting museums that charge admission.

The City Museum failed. But the Crime and Punishment and Spy Museums do well enough. I don't think that the Wax Museum does particularly well. I don't think the Newseum has tremendous patronage. etc.

It'd be interesting to have case studies of the Nat. Museum of Women in the Arts and Phillips Collection as counters. They are alive, which is better than the Corcoran, and seem to be ok. But the attendance figures these museums have is likely to be in the same range that the ICE could have expected. Not much more.

At 1:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am for one glad Bowser put the damper on the NIMBYs on CH by telling them off in no uncertain terms. These people do not want any change especially if it impacts their free surface parking. Parking is their main concern- more important than any other issue- and it over rides all else.I am sick of these people and have to walk past them every day.They all want Hine to be a 500 place multi story parking facility. Ultimately this is the only thing that will make them happy.

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Christopher said...

The Phillips is extremely well run. And has been for decades. Their board and staff is extremely intelligent about taking on risk and audience development. The Corcoran was bleeding the best arts administrators to the Phillips in the 1990s and that didn't stop. Reminds a bit of the situation in the Southeast. The High Museum and the Knoxville Museum of Art, built flashy buildings without building their endowments to handle maintenance, audience development and growing their collections. While the Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga took a much more conservative approach that focused on the less sexy sides of their museums and waited decades to build a big addition. KMA is doing somewhat better, High is struggling. But Hunter has stayed even, and built a massive collection of art as collateral.

I do think that DC needs a contemporary art museum, if nothing more than to inspire and show the work of emerging artists and help retain them in the region (as well as build up a collecting community for new work). It's hard to say what the mayor found problematic with the ICE proposal. The name alone is awful so perhaps they just didn't have their ducks in a row to be a sustainable operation?

At 3:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgive me if I've posted this here before, but the Sumner rehab came about thanks to Mort Zuckerman, who was trying to impress Gloria Steinham with his civic mindedness at the time by setting up the parking lot swap rather than tearing Sumner down. It was Zuckerman's real estate investment company, Boston Properties, that set up the original "in-perpetuity" terms for Sumner. However, BP has since divested the commercial property (to whom I don't know) and I don't know what happened to the original Sumner agreement and whether it was a covenant running with the property. I do know that, typical of DC, the city had been cutting back for years on access, services and support for Sumner.
Here's a little walk down memory lane with the late, great Nancye Suggs:

At 11:36 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

EE -- I know you've told that story, but... are you saying that Mort Zuckerman came up with the approach, not Richard Hurlbut?

At 11:39 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Christopher -- thanks for that. I too agree that the city needs a contemporary and/or "local arts museum" to do what you say in terms of centering, re-beginning to create a critical mass for local artists. Phillips is cool, but isn't a local arts museum in that sense.

At 1:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

RL-No, I'm not saying Zuckerman provided the approach, just the money. You should talk with Deb Hanrahan (and I think, Ann Selene)--she was in the middle of it.

At 4:18 PM, Anonymous Christopher said...

You're absolutely right about Phillips, which is weird too considering it was originally had an art studio school as well. Many museums did though, of course. The history of arts education is how its tied into the history of museums (and the need for working artists to make money). Been working with the founding of a graduate student unionization efforts right now and trying to explain the difference in how art schools came to be which is separate from the rest of the higher education system.

The heydays of DC as an fine arts incubator in the post war years, there was a lot stronger connection between the art museums and local art movements. (Washington Color School for instance.)

I think of the work that the New Museum and PS1 in NYC, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago or Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in SF. All have been and continue to be the first museum to feature the work of emerging artists. DC doesn't have that and it's a loss for the artists trying to make it there.

Worry too because I think we lose something when we don't have local art movements. It all becomes homogenized by LA and NY.


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