- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The National Children’s Museum will move to a new site near the Southwest waterfront and a local developer is expected to buy the current museum with plans to convert it into condominiums.

D.C. officials plan to announce tomorrow that a new museum will be incorporated as part of massive redevelopment efforts along the Anacostia and Potomac rivers and the Washington Channel. Abdo Development will buy and renovate the 80,000-square-foot building, converting most of the space into residential units, according to sources with knowledge of the negotiations.

Over the last five years, museum officials have said they would like to move to a larger, newer facility, preferably closer to downtown or other tourist destinations. The new site is expected to be within a short walking distance of the Tidal Basin and the Jefferson Memorial.

D.C. Council member Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat who serves on the museum’s board of directors, said the museum is popular but would be more effective as a tourist destination if it were incorporated into a redevelopment project. Also, the museum does not have the space to expand.

“[The museum] is a little bit hard to get to, and it doesn’t have the space,” she said yesterday.

The museum averages about 200,000 visitors each year. By contrast, the Smithsonian reported 24 million visitors to its 17 museums in 2002, though more than three-fourths of that total is from visitors to its five most popular destinations.

D.C. planners have proposed more than 2 million square feet of new construction including retail and office space and new homes on 50 acres near the Southwest waterfront as part of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative redevelopment plan. In addition to new housing, retail and office space, planners said they want to turn the area into a kind of arts district.

“We always thought we’d like to get more cultural uses along the waterfront,” said a source with knowledge of the District’s plans for the area. “It would be a catalyst … it would draw people across the river.”

The museum received commitments for about $600,000 last year from Congress and donors to help fund predevelopment costs for a new location. Details about when and where the museum will move are still not clear, because negotiations are being finalized.

In addition to working with D.C. planners, museum officials have met with Amaze Design Inc., a Boston company that helped design the National Museum of Australia, the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City, Mo.,and ECHO, a science and history center along Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vt.

A move of the National Children’s Museum to an area targeted for redevelopment mirrors the construction of similar museums in other cities. The 1998 addition of Port Discovery, an interactive museum for children, coincided with the redevelopment of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. And in Atlanta, a new children’s museum opened in March 2003, anchoring a tourist hot spot featuring the Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola.

The National Children’s Museum is headed by Kathy Dwyer Southern, the former president and chief executive of Port Discovery.

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