- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 12, 2000

The Newseum offered the District of Columbia $100 million yesterday to move from Arlington, Va., to downtown, including a $25 million grant to build low-income housing if the District approves the deal quickly.

The Freedom Forum, which operates the fast-growing Newseum, said it will pay the city $75 million for the Department of Employee Services building at Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street NW, one of the best locations in the city.

If the sale closes before the end of the year, the Freedom Forum said it would give the city an extra $25 million to develop low and moderately priced housing.

"We really feel this is the best site in the world for this project," said Charles L. Overby, chairman and chief executive officer of the Freedom Forum. The organization also considered sites in Arlington and New York, where it operates a branch location, Mr. Overby said.

The move would mark the city's latest effort to create a "living downtown" that is as active during the evenings and on weekends as it is on weekdays, when downtown bustles with federal workers.

Since opening in 1997, the Newseum a 75,000-square-foot museum devoted to journalism and current events has attracted 1.5 million visitors, including 460,000 last year. The museum's lease in Arlington expires in 2003, which is why the Freedom Forum wants the District to accept its offer as soon as possible, Mr. Overby said.

Charles A. Docter, a District housing advocate who has endorsed the proposal, said the Freedom Forum may have offered the extra $25 million to ensure the city accepts the offer quickly.

The District has a reputation for dragging its feet when approving new residential and commercial projects and paying "lip service" to the need for downtown housing, Mr. Docter said.

Mr. Overby said moving the Newseum to the District would allow it to double the center's size and attract more tourists. In addition to museum space, the Freedom Forum wants to construct a conference center, restaurant, museum shop and about 100 condominiums at the site.

About 200 jobs would be created by the move, the Freedom Forum said.

The total project is expected to cost more than $250 million. It would be funded completely by the Freedom Forum through its $1 billion private endowment.

The city has not officially put the Department of Employment Services building on the selling block. Mayor Anthony A. Williams said the city will determine within the next 45 days whether the city must conduct a formal bidding process in order to sell the building.

At a press conference outside the building yesterday, Mr. Williams said he takes the Freedom Forum's offer "very, very seriously" and promised to help shepherd the project through the city's approval process.

"We're going to move heaven and earth [and] get this … deliberation process done as quickly as possible," Mr. Williams said.

In crafting its offer to the District, Mr. Overby said the Freedom Forum estimated the city would want at least $50 million for the property.

"When we came in with an offer north of $70 million, we thought that they would be pretty happy," Mr. Overby said.

The nonprofit organization also has offered to waive its right to claim an exemption from real-estate and retail-sales taxes, Mr. Overby said.

Joseph Stettinius Jr., a commercial real-estate broker for the District office of Trammell Crow Co., said the proposal "reinforces the concept of a 24-hour downtown. This would be a significant step in that direction."

Barbara A. Favola, chairman of the Arlington County Board, said the Newseum's move won't hurt her jurisdiction, which also faces the pending move of the Gannett Co. headquarters to Tysons Corner.

The county has other projects in the works, including Waterview, a $250 million waterfront development that is slated to feature hotel and office space, the Democrat said.

She added that the Newseum's decision to stay in the Washington area "is a plus for everyone."

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