Montgomery Economic Development Group Making Pitch for Newseum

Montgomery Economic Development Group Making Pitch for Newseum

Journalism museum’s D.C. building sold to Johns Hopkins

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The Montgomery County Economic Development Corp. plans to make a pitch for the Newseum — the privately-funded journalism museum that has spent the past 11 years in a state-of-the-art building on Pennsylvania Avenue in the District of Columbia – to consider moving to the county.

Johns Hopkins University announced last week it would buy the building for its School of Advanced International Studies and other graduate programs from The Freedom Forum, the private foundation that funds the Newseum.

Montgomery County’s push to lure the nonprofit began with an email Sunday from Charles Kauffman, a Bethesda attorney, and board member of the tourist organization Visit Montgomery.

According to a news release from The Freedom Forum, the Newseum is exploring its options to find another location in the greater Washington region.

The email was sent to County Executive Marc Elrich, David Petr, the CEO of the county economic development group and Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce CEO Ginanne Italiano, among others.

“I am keenly aware that Montgomery County needs a major cultural attraction and I view the closing of the Newseum in DC as an ideal opportunity to acquire this asset.  I would suggest organizing a Committee to explore all aspects including possible locations,” Kauffman wrote.

Petr confirmed that his agency, a public-private partnership with the county, was preparing a proposal.

“We are connecting with the client to present Montgomery County locations and advantages to them,” Petr wrote in an email.

Publicists for the Newseum, which plans to remain open until year’s end, declined to comment.

Kauffman said in an interview Thursday morning that he believes the county needs a major cultural attraction. His clients include Vamoose bus lines, which operate between Washington and New York City. He said buses headed to New York are typically at 100 percent capacity, but only two-thirds full from Manhattan to the Washington region’s stops.

“I think we could be a little more competitive,” he said.

Prince George’s County, he noted, has a major tourist destination in MGM National Harbor resort and casino, which opened in 2016, but nothing in Montgomery County rivals that.

“I think we should have something magnetic, attractive and intellectual,” he said. “I may be an opportunist, but I think the Newseum is an opportunity.”

Kauffman said he envisions the Strathmore concert and arts center and White Flint as possible sites in North Bethesda, both of which are located near Metro stations. He said such a large attraction would also help the economy.

“It’s one of our needs. The basic need is to revitalize our economic development and attract more businesses. We’ve kind of flattened out on new businesses,” he said.

Kauffman acknowledged that the idea is “in its infancy” and that the only person he has spoken with about the idea so far is Visit Montgomery President Kelly Groff.

“I’m looking for help. It’s not a one-man effort, for sure,” he said.

The Newseum first opened in 1997 in Arlington, Virginia, and moved into its current location in the District in 2008. The institution has been operated at a loss of between $2 million and $8 million every year according to its tax filings.

Asked earlier in the week what she thought of the idea, Council President Nancy Navarro said she hadn’t heard about the proposal. She thought the county “would embrace it, but the devil was in the details.”

“It’s all about, what would be the terms of bringing that to the county, what would be the fiscal implications of bring it to the county, but I think it would be an amazing addition. We have the Discovery building [in Silver Spring]. There’s a lot of different possibilities,” she said.

Asked whether the Newseum would see more visitors in Montgomery County than in the District, Navarro was less optimistic.

“I don’t think so. It’s [DC] the heart of tourism, so I’m not sure that it would do better here,” she said.

Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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