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Looks like downtown D.C.’s long-vacant Franklin School will be redeveloped into a museum after all.
Almost two years since Mayor Muriel Bowser put the kibosh on plans to convert the landmarked 1869 building into an art museum that was to be called the Institute for Contemporary Expression, the administration today announced that it has picked local developer Dantes Partners and philanthropist Ann B. Friedman to transform the old school into the city’s inaugural “interactive language arts museum.”
Similar to the Mundolingua in Paris, Planet Word—as the D.C. museum will be known—is to feature linguistic exhibits, arts and music events, and classes and workshops, according to the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. Planet Word would contain 15,000 square feet of exhibit space, a 150-seat auditorium, 1,900 square feet in classroom space, and a 3,500-square foot restaurant—all across four floors. DMPED predicts that the museum will host approximately 100,000 visitors per year.
In a statement, Deputy Mayor Brian Kenner says the museum is a “one-of-a-kind project that delivers on our promise to invest in the arts.” Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, whose ward includes the building, calls the plans “viable.”
Critics challenged Bowser’s scrapping of the proposal to develop the Franklin School into ICE, which was struck under ex-Mayor Vince Gray. ICE insisted that their fundraising was sufficient, even though the new administration disputed it. Officials say money won’t be an issue for Planet Word due to major philanthropic backing, and that historic preservation work on the school—located at the intersection of 13th and K streets NW, just across from Franklin Square—can soon begin.
It’s estimated that the project will cost roughly $30 million. The museum is expected to open with free admission during the winter of 2019. Friedman is the wife of New York Times journalist Tom Friedman, who along with national partners has worked on plans for the museum for more than three years, DMPED says. The Friedmans live in nearby Bethesda.
Dantes Partners, meanwhile, has a hand in many affordable housing and mixed-use developments in the District. They are currently collaborating with D.C.-based Roadside Development to construct a luxury apartment project on a vacant parking lot in Shaw at 8th and O streets NW. (Roadside built the City Market at O project.) Buwa Binitie, a managing principal at Dantes, is known to have close ties to Bowser, having donated $10,000 to the now-defunct political action committee FreshPAC. (When FreshPAC dissolved toward the end of 2015, donors received most of their money back.)
The Franklin School served as the city’s first high school in 1880, before becoming the school system’s administrative headquarters for four decades and then an adult education center for three decades. It has also functioned as a homeless shelter, and was briefly taken over by Occupy protestors.