Exterior view of the Corcoran Gallery of Art and the Corcoran College of… (Courtesy of the Corcoran…)
Alexandria officials aggressively promoted the city’s waterfront as a possible location for the Corcoran Gallery of Art, starting nearly a year before Corcoran officials announced in June that the option of leaving the District was under consideration, according to internal e-mails among Alexandria officials and interviews this week with Corcoran executives.
Shortly before preliminary discussions with Alexandria began, gallery staff members had two meetings with economic development officials in the District in early July 2011 to discuss alternative locations, according to a timeline provided by the Corcoran. Exploratory meetings with Alexandria and the District, and also with a private land owner in Washington’s Fort Totten neighborhood, continued through this past summer, when the Corcoran also contacted officials in Montgomery and Fairfax counties, as well as the governors of Maryland and Virginia.
The new information shows that the financially struggling Corcoran began contemplating a move to a larger, more affordable space at least 11 months before publicly disclosing the deliberations and 11 months before the gallery’s board of trustees voted to authorize its staff to scout locations and to test the market for selling the Beaux-Arts landmark building on 17th Street NW, near the White House.
The board has been fully informed of the process since at least spring 2011, said Harry Hopper, chairman of the board, showing a reporter a document from a board meeting dated June 2011. Under the heading “Ideal Scenario,” the document listed “Stay in building.” Scenarios B and C were to sell the building and buy a property for renovation or build a facility.
A board vote was not necessary to authorize the preliminary outreach to the District and Alexandria, Hopper said, likening those conversations to staff members doing their “homework” on possibilities. The board’s vote in June marked the beginning of a formal phase that has included hiring a real estate broker to sift through offers and to vet locations.
The effort has yielded no concrete proposals; the broker has been at work less than a month. Corcoran executives say their priorities include staying in the building, if it is financially feasible, preserving the Corcoran’s legacy and forging a sustainable future for the gallery and its related Corcoran College of Art and Design.
Alexandria’s waterfront — the subject of the most speculative buzz on both sides of the Potomac River — seems increasingly unlikely, but Corcoran executives would not rule out any possibility.
“There’s nothing that has been brought to our attention that would be the basis for engaging with Alexandria,” Hopper said. “Yes, there were conversations with Alexandria, which, frankly, were driven more by them than by us.”
Officials in Alexandria agreed that the odds are against them.
“We view ourselves as a long shot, because we think the impetus is probably to stay in D.C.,” said Val Hawkins, president and chief executive of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, who has led the city’s courtship of the Corcoran.
Faroll Hamer, Alexandria’s director of planning and zoning, was more blunt in a June 4 e-mail, the day news broke of the Corcoran’s search, when she responded to an e-mail from Jeremy McPike, director of general services.
“Corcoran to waterfront?” McPike wrote.
“Can you imagine?” Hamer replied. “The sites don’t even have the necessary zoning. Not likely, I’d say. But what a kick in the pants.”
When Corcoran representatives met with Alexandria officials at their most recent and comprehensive discussion July 30, city advocates described the Robinson Terminal North as an option. That waterfront warehouse and a nearby property are owned by a subsidiary of The Washington Post Co. They are operational storage facilities and are not currently available, said Rima Calderon, a Post Co. spokeswoman. “We don’t know if or when a sale or relocation might occur,” she said. “Robinson Terminal is not currently marketing the properties for sale.”
Economic development officials from other jurisdictions say they have heard little from the Corcoran leadership following initial meetings.
“We’re kind of waiting for them to get back to us,” said Steve Silverman, director of economic development in Montgomery County.
Corcoran executives said their representatives have met multiple times with Victor L. Hoskins, deputy mayor to D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D), or Hoskins’s staff, as recently as Sept. 21.
“We discussed Capitol Riverfront, Southwest Waterfront, St. Elizabeths and all of our higher-profile, larger projects as areas that they should consider if they relocate,” said Hoskins spokesman Jose Sousa.