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The economic impact of a language arts museum: Detailing the Franklin School deal

Monday, June 19, 2017

Washington Business Journal by Karen Goff

The partnership chosen to redevelop D.C.’s historic Franklin School into Planet Word language arts museum will pay the District $10 a year to lease the property but invest $35 million in its rehabilitation, under the terms of a development agreement.

The agreement between the city and Franklin School Development LLC, headed by philanthropist and former teacher Ann B. Friedman, was detailed in legislation recently introduced by Mayor Muriel Bowser. The D.C. Council has to approve the disposition of the property at 925 13th St. NW, the intersection of 13th and K streets in the heart of downtown, for the deal to move forward.

The Franklin School at 13th and K streets NW sits adjacent to Franklin Park. It will be… more

Franklin School Development, a partnership of ABooks LLC and Dantes Partners, will finance the $25 million rehabilitation of the dilapidated 181-year-old building, which was most recently used as a homeless shelter. ABooks is a recently created corporation headed by Friedman to oversee the project’s development.

The Friedmans have a separate family foundation that had assets of $17 million and gave away $1.7 million in grants in 2014, the latest year complete 990 forms were available.

The Museum of Language Arts will be a tenant within Franklin School and provide the $10 million to establish Planet Word, according to the agreement. The museum does not plan to charge for admission.

The Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development estimates the project will create 190 temporary construction jobs and more than 149 permanent jobs. It will also generate $800,000 in construction-related taxes and $27 million in permanent tax revenues over 30 years. The lease period is 99 years.

The museum in March hired its first executive director, Patty Isacson Sabee, who had most recently served as CEO and director of the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle. The museum also has a high-profile board of directors, with former D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, Forest City Washington Executive Vice President Deborah Ratner Salzberg and City Bridge Foundation and 2012 WBJ Philanthropist of the Year Katherine Brittain Bradley among the members.

Other details from the resolution:

  • Franklin School Development is working with architect Beyer Blinder Belle. A preliminary concept shows the basement level as offices and a restaurant. The first floor will have classrooms, a reception area and a 150-seat auditorium. Exhibits will be on the second and third floors. The third floor also contains the building's historic Great Hall, which must be preserved. The fourth floor may be used as event space.
  • The developer will agree to use small and minority-owned businesses for at least 35 percent of the contract dollar volume of the project, 20 percent of the project’s equity financing and 20 percent of the dollar volume of non-construction development activities.
  • The museum is expected to begin operations in 2019.

The District has sought a Franklin School redevelopment partner for more than decade. It issued solicitations in 2003, 2009 and 2013, but none ultimately advanced. The Friedman proposal was chosen in January after a 2015 request for proposals issued by the Bowser administration — the fourth administration to tackle the Franklin School challenge.

DMPED said it chose the team from among four proposals because it was the only one to include 100 percent equity for the rehabilitation. The building was designated a historic landmark in 1996. The historic protections include the entire exterior, as well as interior elements that include the Great Hall, classrooms, tin ceilings and arched doorways.