Capitol Site For Museum Less Likely

Posted October 17, 2003 at 6:17pm

In the latest chapter in the long struggle to build a national museum dedicated to the achievements of African Americans, Reps. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) will soon introduce new legislation authorizing the project, but will drop a controversial provision to consider a site on

Capitol grounds.

A House source close to the process said there was “broad, bipartisan bicameral recognition that the [Capitol] site was not workable.”

“The more you looked into using that site for any purpose the more problematic it became,” said the source.

The site in question is the trapezoidal parcel just north of the Capitol Reflecting Pool, wedged between Constitution and Pennsylvania avenues Northwest.

Instead, the new legislation, to be introduced by the end of the week, is expected to include several options for the museum’s location, as well as restore a potential site earlier recommended by a presidential commission that was not included in a museum bill the Senate unanimously approved in June.

The other sites include a location just off the National Mall between 14th and 15th streets Northwest near the Washington Monument; the Liberty Loan Building on 14th Street Southwest just south of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing; and the Arts and Industries Building on Independence Avenue next to the Smithsonian Castle.

Another site along the Southwest waterfront at the end of the L’Enfant Promenade known as the Benjamin Banneker/10th Street Overlook had been deemed as too far off the Mall and not included in the initial legislation introduced in the House and Senate.

But several sources indicate this option will be part of the new bill.

“Mr. Lewis, Mr. Kingston and others will introduce new legislation which includes changes to satisfy concerns which had been raised by the previous bill,” said Bill Johnson, Kingston’s chief of staff.

House Administration Chairman Bob Ney (R-Ohio) has agreed to move quickly on the museum initiative, which is estimated to cost $360 million. Costs for the museum will be split in a public/private partnership.

The bill would leave the final decision on site to the Smithsonian Board of Regents and other national capital planning entities. The original legislation would have given the Board of Regents alone 18 months after it was approved to pick a site.

Ney has promised Lewis that the House Administration Committee will act quickly on his proposal, and there is some hope among the bill’s advocates that the legislation will come before the full House under suspension, a process used for non-controversial measures.

Under that scenario, the Senate would then be expected to take up and adopt whatever the House passes.

“Chairman Ney would very much like to see this legislation pass the House before the end of the session,” said Brian Walsh. “All the parties involved are negotiating in good faith.”

“Mr. Lewis, Mr. Kingston, the chairman and ranking member of the House Administration Committee and [Del. Eleanor Holmes] Norton [D-D.C.] have had several productive meetings in the last couple of weeks about the way to proceed,” said Johnson. “We are working with Senate colleagues so that a bill can be passed as easily as [was] passed the first time over there.”

Several House sources cautioned that Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), who introduced the legislation authorizing the museum in the Senate, may still be pushing for the inclusion of the Capitol site. These sources noted, however, that the House has agreed to drop that option.

“We’re getting near the finish line and we hope to get it done soon,” Walsh said.