Best Mayoral Creative-Economy Blunder

The Franklin School
13th and K streets NW
By overruling an agreement reached under her predecessor’s administration, Mayor Muriel Bowser undid the best proposal yet to restore the crumbling Franklin School at 13th and K streets NW. Dani Levinas, a local business leader and art collector, aimed to turn the building into the Institute for Contemporary Expression—an open platform for new contemporary art projects. If this winter’s installations at the Renwick Gallery were any indication, ICE would’ve been a major new downtown draw, perhaps even a force to revive nearby Franklin Square. Seeing as how the Franklin School is sealed by the stiffest protective status that historic preservation can bestow (inside and out), there are few uses to which the building is very well suited: not condos, not a boutique hotel, and maybe not even a tech shop. Yet Bowser, citing a lack of fundraising on behalf of Levinas and developer Anthony Lanier, scuppered the deal, despite the fact that ICE had already raised half of its first $6 million push before the project was fully authorized. Big mistake. A public building deserves a public use, and downtown would benefit from a cultural experience that isn’t a $20-per-ticket schlock museum. Next up for the Franklin School is a new round of tours from interested developers that may yield the same results as years of past efforts: an empty Franklin School.