- The Washington Times - Monday, June 28, 2004

The D.C. government is proposing to spend $40 million to help the Corcoran Gallery of Art expand its facility in Northwest, but critics call the plan a misuse of tax dollars that takes money away from projects to improve blighted neighborhoods.

The nonprofit Corcoran Gallery is seeking city financing through the District’s tax-increment financing, or TIF, program. The program provides city funding to economic development projects that repay the city via increased sales and property tax revenue.

Supporters of the Corcoran project — including D.C. Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat — say the increased tourism generated by the art gallery will offset the city financing of its expansion.

“People will come to Washington, D.C., to see this building,” said Mr. Evans, whose ward includes the Corcoran.

A study by Corcoran officials said the $200 million expansion project will increase the number of visitors at the museum from between 250,00 and 500,000 to about 1.2 million.

The study also predicted the creation of more than 400 temporary construction jobs and more than 350 permanent full-time jobs from the expansion of the District’s oldest art museum, which is situated at 17 Street and New York Avenue NW. The gallery reported $77 million in assets to the Internal Revenue Service in 2002.

Critics point out that the Corcoran’s nonprofit status means it does not have to pay property taxes.

“There is no expectation that the museum itself will generate enough new sales and property taxes,” said Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. “The Corcoran Gallery project would not serve to revitalize a blighted neighborhood.”

Mr. Lazere also said the analysis by Corcoran officials “suffers from optimistic assumptions.”

The project has won the crucial support of Mayor Anthony A. Williams.

In a June 16 letter to D.C. Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp, at-large Democrat, Mr. Williams urged council support, saying the project would turn the Corcoran into “one of the most visible must-see destinations in the District and worldwide.”

Mr. Williams, a Democrat, said the project also would generate tax revenue of $5.4 million to the District, compared with $1.2 million per year the gallery currently generates. “The economic benefit to the District that will flow from the Corcoran’s redevelopment is significant,” he wrote.

Corcoran officials say the expansion, funded largely through private donations, would include the designs of architect Frank Gehry, who also designed the Disney Center in Los Angeles and Experience Music Project in Seattle.

“Having a building of this quality makes the Corcoran a venue of choice,” said Corcoran Director David C. Levy.

But council member Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, criticized the city government’s support for the Corcoran project and its rejection of financing for the proposed D.C. USA retail center in Columbia Heights.

“That’s found wanting, and this is fine?” Mr. Graham said of the two projects. “You can imagine my constituents’ frustration.

“We’ve got to make sure that what’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” he said.

Council member David A. Catania, at-large Republican, said he supported the project, but wanted “a more realistic view of the numbers.”

“It looks good on paper, but we don’t always see a real meaningful benefit in terms of jobs,” he said.

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