Hopkins is buying the Newseum building in D.C.

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Photo by David Monack via Wikimedia Commons

Johns Hopkins University is buying the Newseum building on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., with an eye toward consolidating its academic programs in the nation’s capital.

The Washington Post was first to report the story.

In a message to the Hopkins community, President Ronald J. Daniels said the building will have 400,000 square feet of space for the university after a renovation, allowing the school to combine its Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) with graduate programs business, arts and sciences, and nursing in Washington.

“With the acquisition and renovation of the Newseum, we will have an unparalleled opportunity to bring all of our current D.C.-based Johns Hopkins graduate programs together in a single, landmark, state-of-the-art building,” Daniels wrote. “Moreover, the renovated building will provide opportunities for every academic division of the university to pursue research and educational activities in Washington—complementing and drawing on those conducted on our flagship Baltimore campuses and deepening our connections to debates over national and global policy.”

Asked if there would be any impact on Hopkins’ numerous operations here in Baltimore, spokesman Dennis O’Shea said no programs would be heading south as part of the plan.

“This new location will neither distract nor detract from our commitment to our hometown of Baltimore. It will help create new opportunities to promote the city we are proud to be a part of and the work our students and faculty do here every day.”

Hopkins acquired the building for $372.5 million, according to the school. According to The Post, the money comes, in part, as a gift from billionaire Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and a Hopkins alumnus. Bloomberg recently gifted the school $1.8 billion for student financial aid.

Per a release from Hopkins, the project will also be financed with university funds and the proceeds from the sale of the buildings the school already owns in D.C.

The release also said Hopkins will continue to uphold the ideals of the First Amendment championed by the building’s current occupant, using the facility “as a home for education, discovery, free and open debate and the preservation and advancement of democratic ideals.”

Representatives from Hopkins intend to talk with District of Columbia officials, who would ultimately have to approve the school’s plans, about renovating the building, which was specifically constructed to serve as a museum to the news industry and press freedoms.

“We are eager to engage with elected officials, public agencies and the surrounding community and will be sharing additional details as they become available in the coming months,” the Hopkins release said.

As The Post notes, the Freedom Forum–the founder and primary backer of the Newseum–has struggled financially in recent years. A 2018 report said the foundation was exploring a sale of the building due to a $300 million debt burden and “lackluster fundraising.”

While the museum, located on a prime piece of real estate just off the National Mall, charges a $25 admission fee, many of the Smithsonian museums in the immediate vicinity are free to the public.

“This was a difficult decision, but it was the responsible one,” Jan Neuharth, chair and chief executive of the Freedom Forum, said in a statement to The Post today. “We remain committed to continuing our programs–in a financially sustainable way–to champion the five freedoms of the First Amendment and to increase public awareness about the importance of a free and fair press. With today’s announcement, we can begin to explore all options to find a new home in the Washington D.C. area.”

The museum told the newspaper it will remain open for the rest of the year, and the schedule of exhibitions will go on as planned.

Brandon Weigel

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