Wednesday, May 24, 2006

LAS VEGAS — Tussauds Group, which owns and operates Madame Tussauds wax museums around the world, is in talks with developers to open a museum in downtown D.C. in the basement of the former Woodies building, D.C. Council member Jack Evans said yesterday.

“I’m talking to them, as I am with others,” said Norman Jemal, vice president of Douglas Development Corp., which owns the Woodward & Lothrop Building at 1025 F St. NW.

Mr. Evans, Mr. Jemal and nearly 42,000 other developers, city officials and retailers are gathered in Las Vegas this week to attend the International Council of Shopping Centers’ annual convention.

Madame Tussauds, which has wax museums in New York, Las Vegas, Amsterdam, London and Hong Kong, features wax look-alikes of celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Britney Spears, Tiger Woods and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat.

The world-famous museum would bring more tourists to the city and a provide a boost to the growing Penn Quarter neighborhood.

“It’s great for the city,” said Mr. Evans, Ward 2 Democrat and chairman of the D.C. Council’s Finance and Revenue Committee. “Retailers want to be [in the District]. They’re interested now.”

The Woodies building is located two blocks from the National Portrait Gallery, Ford’s Theatre and the International Spy Museum, one of the city’s few museums that charges admission. The Verizon Center is a short walk away.

“This would be a great addition to the Spy Museum, Ford’s Theatre and the triangle of attractions downtown,” said Steve Moore, president and chief executive officer of the Washington, DC Economic Partnership. “It will continue to anchor downtown as a destination for entertainment.”

Early projections suggest that a wax museum could draw 35,000 visitors each month, but Mr. Moore called that number modest.

The International Spy Museum, which opened in July 2002, expected only 500,000 visitors its first year but recorded attendance of 700,000, according to museum figures.

The Woodward & Lothrop Building was the department-store company’s flagship location until it closed in 1995. After that, the building was redeveloped for office and retail tenants. H&M clothing store operates on part of the first floor.

The Tussauds Group, which was acquired by Dubai International Capital last year, owns theme parks in Britain and Germany, as well as wax museums and other attractions. The company reported profits of $331 million last year.

Tussauds was founded by Marie Grosholz, later known as Madame Tussaud, a native of Strasbourg, France. She learned her trade in the 1700s by modeling life-size wax figures and the heads of guillotine victims during the French Revolution. She took the figures on a traveling roadshow in the 1800s before settling in London, where her flagship wax museum was founded in 1835.

Tussauds Group did not return phone calls from a reporter seeking comment yesterday.

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