Yesterday the House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure approved a measure that would allow the National Gallery of Art to add a third building to its downtown Washington campus. The plan, first revealed on MAN in 2007, would turn over the Federal Trade Commission’s Apex Building to the NGA. [Image: Flickr user M.V. Jantzen.]
HR 690, the “Federal Trade Commission and National Gallery of Art Facility Consolidation, Savings, and Efficiency Act of 2011″ would move the FTC out of its longtime home at the apex of the Federal Triangle (and across Constitution Ave. from the National Gallery of Art’s West Building). The National Gallery would then be responsible for the remodeling and modernization of the building. In 2008 the NGA estimated that the Apex Building would provide 187,000 square feet of usable space. “It is an obvious solution to everything,” NGA director Earl A. Powell told me at the time. “But we’ll just have to see.”
“This proposal can save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by authorizing [the General Services Administration" to move the FTC out of its aging, insufficient headquarters into government-owned space," Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.) said in a statement. Mica chairs the Transportation Committee and initially proposed the swap in 2005. "This will increase the efficiency of the agency and more effectively meet its office space requirements. Providing this vacated space to the National Gallery of Art will also allow the Gallery to consolidate its multiple facilities, ensure that the necessary renovations for that building are funded by private donations and not taxpayer dollars, and maximize public use of this historic building."
According to a committee press release, the NGA currently leases about 60,000 square feet of office spaces in downtown Washington.
This idea has been kicking around for half a decade, but this is the first time legislation supporting the transfer of Apex to the NGA has passed out of committee and to the full House. No similar bill has been introduced in the Senate and it is not clear whether the idea has any Senate support. Back in 2008, the National Gallery of Art supported the Apex handover, mostly because it badly needs more office space. While it's possible that some works on paper or photography galleries could move to what is known as the Apex Building, a primary motivating factor for the NGA's expansion would be increased office space. The NGA also needs additional room for education programs. In 2008, the NGA committed to raising $100 million to pay for both the renovation of Apex and to fund the move. [Image: Google Maps.]
In July, 2008 I published a long piece about the NGA and its need for increased space in Washingtonian magazine. The story includes many details about the NGA’s needs and how it would use Apex. The possibility of NGA expansion has foundered in recent years because Democratic House members, in particular D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, did not support the NGA moving into the Apex Building. It appears as if the GOP takeover of the House has revived the plan — at least for now.
“We are committed to raising some $200 million or more in private funds to cover much-needed renovations that would enable us to provide space for exhibitions and for educational programs for all ages, as well as for the nation’s growing art collection, which is donated or purchased with private funds,” Powell said today in a statement provided by the NGA.