After weighing a number of redevelopment options for the Franklin School at a special meeting on Nov. 16, the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, or ANC, with jurisdiction over the area, voted unanimously to support Georgetown University and Thoron Capital’s plan to turn the old school into new academic center focusing on technology and multi-media art. Previously, the school was slated to host a contemporary art museum but Mayor Muriel Bowser shelved those plans in February shortly after coming into office.
Four companies presented redevelopment proposals for the school, built in 1869, to the ANC. The crop of proposals included plans to turn the space into a co-working office space or a boutique hotel, with a focus on either the arts or on fine dining.
Georgetown’s plan, on the other hand, involves turning the space into “a technology, arts, and media center envisioned as the ‘Y Combinator start-up model meets Juilliard with live performance, educational activity, and a dynamic space where technologists, artists, and entrepreneurs come together,” according to the ANC. Robert Taylor, founder of Thoron Capital, explained to the Washington Post that the plan is based off “the idea of bringing different arts disciplines together and letting them play off of one another.”
Included in the plans are a performing arts hall run by the operators of Bohemian Caverns, a live music staple on U Street, an outdoor performance courtyard, and a restaurant facing 13th Street NW. According to Urban Turf, “there will also be community-based courses for Georgetown students which the public can audit, as well as a partnership with various public high schools in the city to teach and train youth and provide college students with community-based learning credits.”
Randall Bass, Georgetown vice provost for education, suggested to the Washington Post that a new university center at the Franklin School would help connect the school’s other downtown programs, like its continuing education campus near Mount Vernon Square and the Georgetown Law premises close to Union Station.
“We think that this is a really unique opportunity to be able to bring the music and film studies work to the heart of downtown,” he said to the Post.
Under the ANC’s recommended plan, Thoron would lease the old school from the city and undertake renovations, while Georgetown University would be the primary tenant. Thoron will consult with a number of experts on historic preservation for the project, but Taylor called the project a “comfortable undertaking” because it will not seek to “radically change the layout of the building.”
A panel within the Deputy Mayor of Planning & Economic Development’s office is in charge of the final decision on the building’s redevelopment. Bidders anticipate a decision by the end of the year and the Bowser administration aims to begin construction in 2017, around the same time that the National Park Service will be putting the finishing touches on its overhaul of Franklin Square Park.