WASHINGTON — Financial pressures have forced the Smithsonian Institution to rethink plans to reopen one of the oldest buildings on the National Mall this year as an innovation pavilion, leaving the site’s future in question.
The 133-year-old Arts and Industries Building, one of the original exhibition spaces in the nation’s capital, has undergone a $55 million federally funded renovation to replace its roof and rehabilitate the structure. It was shuttered in 2004 because of structural problems and leaks. While scaffolding is now being dismantled around the building, it will remain closed until further notice, officials said late Monday.
Last year, the Smithsonian announced a partnership with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to reopen the structure as an innovation center this fall to showcase American ingenuity. But funding has not materialized for the project as planned, said Smithsonian Secretary Wayne Clough.
“We can’t really access any federal funds for the building,” Clough said. “At this point, we don’t see opening in 2014. I think it’s a question that comes later when we might be able to reintroduce the idea of some federal funding for staffing of the building.”
In its most recent requests to Congress, the Smithsonian has prioritized other building projects, primarily the construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Another factor complicating the future of the Arts and Industries building is its possible conversion into a proposed Latino cultural museum. A bill pending in Congress names the building as the preferred site for a Smithsonian American Latino Museum, though it would likely require a large underground addition to function as a museum.
“We have to be mindful of the fact that this building could in fact become a Latino museum with the addition of some underground space,” Clough said. “There just aren’t many sites anymore for museums on the mall.”
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