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Little News on Rosslyn Museum Space

Former Newseum site still vacant four years after tourist attraction closed.

It has been nearly four years since the Newseum left Rosslyn, and the site continues to sit unoccupied despite the county’s efforts to attract another landmark cultural or educational tenant.

As Rosslyn sees an influx of new high-rises, restaurants and retail, county officials and owners Beacon Capital Partners are struggling to find a marquee tenant for the space, who they hope will attract people from across the region.

“We would like that space to be a destination for Rosslyn as the Newseum was,” said Cecilia Cassidy, executive director of the Rosslyn Business Improvement District. “This should be a place where people come to Rosslyn to be entertained or have some kind of cultural experience.”

The site, located at 1101 Wilson Blvd. in the heart of Rosslyn, is zoned exclusively to accommodate a museum, and the County Board has expressed a strong desire for a similar tenant to replace the Newseum.

Last month the County Board deferred until April a proposal that would enable Beacon to pursue another type of tenant, in order to give them more time to solicit museums and develop alternative uses for a portion of the space.

The owners, who purchased the property from Westfield Realty in June 2005, have held preliminary discussions with a fitness and recreation club, according to county documents.

“Until we’re convinced that this isn’t going to happen- that the space is not marketable as a museum- the Board is inclined to defer such requests,” Board member Jay Fisette said.

The County Board is unlikely to approve a project in the coming months that lacks the prestige of a museum, especially since the interior of the space is designed specifically to house exhibits, county officials said.

Representatives of Beacon declined to discuss ongoing negotiations. “Our team has been working diligently to find a tenant for the former Newseum space,” Jeff Kovach, part of Beacon’s ownership team, said in a statement. “We are collaborating with the county and local officials to find a solution.

THE COUNTY HAS HELD intense discussions with three applicants over the past several years, Cassidy said. One was a science museum in the early development stage; The others were a potential art museum and a cable television channel.

Arlington officials admitted that there is no guarantee that a museum tenant can be found, because of the massive financial obligations required to run a museum.

“We’re trying to stay true to the county’s original vision and fill it with a quality museum, or museum-like organization, but those organizations are not a dime a dozen.” said Karen Vasquez, advertising manager for the Arlington Economic Development department.

The Newseum originally opened in April 1997, and quickly gained acclaim for its presentation of the media business and interactive offerings.

In 2000, the Freedom Forum, the organization that operates the Newseum, decided to move the facility to Washington in order to have more interior space for exhibits and to draw larger crowds. The new space is expected to open on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 6th Street in 2007.

More than 2.25 million people visited the Newseum during its five years in Rosslyn, providing a boon to local restaurants and shops.

Bill Maron, president of the North Rosslyn Civic Association, said he would like to see a movie theater or planetarium fill the space.

“Lots of tourists stay in Rosslyn and then go downtown,” Maron said. “It would be nice to have things in Rosslyn that attract people and revenue.”