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Posted at 2:01 PM ET, 02/17/2011

House proposes FTC move to make room for National Gallery

By Jacqueline Trescott

A proposal to give the National Gallery of Art more space by opening a spacious annex across the street in the headquarters of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has moved closer to reality.

The House committee that oversees federal buildings passed a bill to give the gallery the massive historic building, which has 306,000 square feet. The bill, introduced by Rep. John L. Mica (R-Fl.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, would allow the gallery to expand exhibitions, educational programs and provide office space and storage for the art collection. The legislation calls for the gallery to raise private funds for the renovation of the building, which dates back to the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration.

The commissioners of the FTC oppose the effort to move the federal agency and its employees from the building it has occupied for over 70 years.

Mica has been pressing for this change as far back as 2005. "Providing this vacated space to the National Gallery of Art would also allow the Gallery to consolidate its multiple facilities, ensure that the necessary renovations for that building are funded by private donations and not taxpayer dollars and maximize public use of this historic building," said Mica in a statement.

The Gallery estimated the renovations would cost an estimated $100 to $200 million. Roosevelt laid the cornerstone of the building at Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues NW in 1937. Called the Apex Building, it has only had one occupant.

Mica said the proposal would save taxpayers millions of dollars. The gallery leases an additional 60,000 square feet in addition to its two landmark buildings that cost the federal government about $145 million a year, said Mica.

Earl A. Powell, III., the gallery's director, agreed that the move would save money. "We are committed to raising some $200 million or more in private funds to cover much-needed renovations that would enable us to provide space for exhibitions and for educational programs for all ages, as well as for the nation's growing art collection, which is donated or purchased with private funds."

As a companion step to the legislation, the committee Wednesday also passed a resolution giving the General Services Administration (GSA) the authority to go ahead with the plan. A Senate committee has to pass the same resolution before the GSA can go ahead with the move

In a letter to Mica, the FTC commissioners argued the proposal was not a money-saver but would create new costs. "More critically, a forced move of the FTC could impose additional costs on the American taxpayer from the need to replicate important functions of the FTC in a new building," including construction of new courtrooms and replacement of infrastructure," said the letter, signed by the five FTC commissioners.

By Jacqueline Trescott  | February 17, 2011; 2:01 PM ET
Categories:  Museums  
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