- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The government is weighing options to revive the 108-year-old Old Post Office as organizers of a project to convert the building into an upscale hotel and museum of Jewish culture press for a decision soon on the fate of the complex at 12th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest.

Under their plan, the main building would become a Hyatt Hotel and the glass-encased annex would be turned into a museum, said Ori Z. Soltes, acting executive director of what he wants to call the National Museum of Jewish Heritage.

So far, the museum “exists as of now on a Web site,” said Mr. Soltes. (www.nmjh.org)

If the General Services Administration approves the plan, Mr. Soltes said he would spend about $10 million to renovate the roughly 92,000-square-foot annex building connected to the Old Post Office on the east side.

The Hyatt Corp. would invest “about 10 times that” in remaking the main building into a modern hotel, Mr. Soltes said.

He would spend another $2 million to begin the museum’s collection of ancient Judaic artifacts, contemporary painting and sculpture, films and other treasures of Jewish culture. The museum would host programs such as theater and book discussions.

It would be funded through private donors, some of whom already have made commitments.

“I would want to cover the whole gamut of Jewish history and culture,” Mr. Soltes said.

His discussions with the GSA demonstrated that the government’s landlord wants to make sure “the landmark building remains as a landmark building, but it’s put to a different use,” he said.

The Old Post Office is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The GSA is pursuing redevelopment through an authorization in the National Historic Preservation Act, which allows the federal government to lease historic assets if their historic features are preserved.

The main building covers 140,000 square feet of occupied office space and 53,000 square feet of retail space. Its tower, which is used as a National Park Service tourist site, occupies another 3,000 square feet.

Although the GSA has not yet set financial terms for use of the building, the winning developers are most likely to get “one of those long, long-term leases,” he said.

Jay Kaplan, chairman of the proposed museum, says it is too early to be certain what will happen with the planners’ nearly one-year-old expression of interest to the GSA.

“The information which we have received is that the project has been put on hold for budgetary reasons,” he said. “We would like to see it go forward. It would be great for Washington.”

GSA officials declined to identify front-runners in the competition to win the Old Post Office lease, saying the information was “procurement sensitive.” They issued the “request for information” to solicit expressions of interest from developers in 2005.

“We are still pondering what to do next, but in the meantime the ground floor continues to house shops and restaurants, and federal office space is occupied above,” said Mike McGill, GSA spokesman.

When it was built, the Old Post Office was Washington’s largest government building and the first one built with a steel frame. It housed the headquarters of the former U.S. Post Office Department.

It now provides office space for the National Endowment of the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the President’s Council for the Arts and Humanities.

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