WASHINGTON – City officials,news professionals and project planners broke ground Thursday for the Freedom Forum's Newseum in a half-full parking lot where the 90-foot building is scheduled to stand by 2006.
Charles L. Overby,chairman and chief executive officer of the Freedom Forum,said that after three years of planning and talks,construction of the new Newseum,a museum devoted to the news business,would begin.
“I first saw the designs on a napkin,then bigger,” joked Overby. “This is pretty good … it just might work out.”
The Freedom Forum,a non-profit foundation,describes itself as “dedicated to free press,free speech and free spirit for all people.”
Overby said the groundbreaking “marks the start of this $400 million project.”
In 2000,the District of Columbia willingly sold a city office building on a prestigious site at Pennsylvania Avenue and 6th Street N.W. after the Freedom Forum proposed to pay $100 million for it. The building was quickly torn down and replaced with a parking lot.
The original Newseum opened in 1997 just across the Potomac River in Arlington,Va. It proved more popular than expected,and the museum quickly outgrew its space. It has been closed since March 2002 to allow the staff to work full time on the new Newseum.
After closing in Virginia,the Newseum installed one of its most popular exhibits as a sidewalk display along Pennsylvania Avenue. The front pages of several dozen newspapers from around the world are placed in glass cases every morning for passersby to read.
The land purchase was finalized in December 2000 with the Freedom Forum transferring $25 million to the District for the land and another $25 million for affordable housing development.
“Fifteen-hundred units of affordable housing will be available because of this building,” said Mayor Anthony A. Williams,D,at the ceremony.
Williams said that,although there were some legal struggles,mainly regarding tour bus parking and backups onto Pennsylvania Avenue,the completion of the building would benefit most importantly “those who work and live here.”
The six-level,531,000 square-foot building will house three times as much interactive Newseum exhibition space as the old Newseum,along with office space for Newseum and Freedom Forum staff,a large conference center,retail space and approximately 125 apartments.
“This is a major added attraction to this city,” said Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton,D-D.C. She said they were able to “take what stood as a building that was once here,that may have been the biggest waste of space” and convert it to a benefit the city could maximize.
“I would pass this site often with some anxiety when I saw no action,” joked Norton. “When I saw the parking lot,I had to call and ask ‘what was up?'”
The building's 90-foot structure was replicated on a 20-foot by 30-foot banner,showing its architectural resemblance to a newspaper.
Overby said the process to get to the groundbreaking ceremony took many layers of partnership,much like a newspaper,that included Polshek Partnership Architects and Ralph Applebaum Associates,CarrAmerica Urban Development LLC as the project manager and support from the District.