Should The Corcoran Stay or Should It Go?

Should you sell your home? No homeowner would answer this question based on the cost of remodeling alone—without considering her income, savings, debt, spending, or the strength of the housing market. And yet, that’s the question that the Corcoran Gallery of Art poses for its community. It’s virtually impossible for anyone to say whether the Corcoran needs to sell its historic building at 17th Street and New York Avenue NW, because no one knows how bad the bleeding is at Washington’s oldest museum. The Corcoran has talked up the millions it would cost to bring its building up to modern museum standards—a long-term proposition. Meanwhile, it has been selling property, like a lease on land nearby sold recently to Carr Properties, in order to cover day-to-day operating expenses. While the board is struggling to keep the lights on, the Corcoran is simultaneously sussing out what value the building might have to a potential buyer, as well as what value the museum and college might have to another organization or municipality in the Washington area. Most of these variables are question marks.

Nevertheless, a majority of Washingtonians think the answer is clear: 29 percent say the museum should sell its historic building and go wherever it pleases, while 30 percent say the Corcoran should sell provided that it moves somewhere within the District. One-quarter of respondents think the Corcoran should stay put, while 16 percent say they don’t know.

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How people answer depends on where you ask the question. Ward 3 residents felt the strongest attachment to the Corcoran’s historic home (or, perhaps, were the least convinced that a sale is the only way out), with 33 percent of respondents saying they should stay in the building designed by Ernest Flagg. More than half of Ward 7 respondents (57 percent) say that the Corcoran should sell its building but stay somewhere in D.C. Ward 7 registered the highest level of support for the move-but-stay option. Correspondingly, Ward 7 respondents also were the least likely to support a move with no strings attached: Just 8 percent think that the Corcoran should consider destinations outside D.C. Likewise, black residents are almost twice as likely as white residents to support the Corcoran staying in D.C. in the event of a sale (41 percent to 21 percent). White and Hispanic residents, however, are more likely to believe that the Corcoran should stay put (31 and 38 percent of respondents, compared to 17 percent of black respondents). It’s a polarizing question for whites, who are also more likely than black respondents to believe the Corcoran should consider options outside D.C. (37 percent to 24 percent).

These answers make sense, when you consider that not so long ago, the Corcoran’s name rang out in Washington. Some residents are more likely to remember that than others; support for selling and moving wherever is strongest among residents who moved here most recently, and softest among longer-term residents. And wards 5 and 7, where support is strongest for keeping the Corcoran in D.C. no matter what decision they make about selling, boasts the residents who’ve lived in D.C. the longest. They may have warmer memories of the museum and its college than more recent transplants, who’ve merely witnessed the Corcoran weather one storm after another.

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