Kennedy Center plans $100m addition

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Local,Matt Connolly

First expansion since performing arts building opened in 1971

The Kennedy Center announced a $100 million expansion plan Tuesday that features new classrooms, a massive outdoor video screen and a floating stage on the Potomac River.

Half of the additions to the performing arts center, a Washington institution since its opening in 1971, will be funded by a $50 million donation from Kennedy Center Chairman David Rubenstein. Kennedy Center officials called it one of the largest gifts ever made to a federally connected nonprofit.

"As the federal budget tightens, I hope more Americans will consider including nonprofit federal entities in their own philanthropy, as well," Rubenstein said.

Expansion plans
• Three pavilions with classrooms, rehearsal rooms and all-purpose space, mostly underground
• An outdoor video wall to simulcast performances going on inside the center
• A floating stage on the Potomac River for outdoor performances
• Public gardens

Rubenstein, co-founder of private equity firm the Carlyle Group, has already given the center more than $75 million. He also has donated to the National Archives, the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian Institution.

The center is embarking on a fundraising push for the remaining $50 million, along with $25 million for more programming. The project will be paid for entirely with private funds, according to the center.

The initial concept includes three pavilions with classrooms, rehearsal space and all-purpose rooms for the center's educational programs.

"We work with 11 million children every year, but we have no classroom space," said Kennedy Center President Michael Kaiser. "It's the first time we're expanding outside of our building."

The extra space will be joined by public gardens, an outdoor performance stage on the river and a video wall that can simulcast performances from inside the center. Kaiser said it was part of the center's mission to better connect with residents through free and low-cost events.

"By having an outdoor garden, by having an outdoor stage, by having a video wall, all this will add to our community engagement activities," he said. "It'll certainly allow us to do more on-site programming."

Kaiser added that the current plan calls for construction to be completed in five years. Much of the 60,000 square feet of proposed additions will be underground.

This isn't the first time the Kennedy Center has looked to expand. About a decade ago, there were plans for $650 million worth of additions, including two new buildings and a large plaza over the Potomac River Freeway.

That idea disappeared when Congress removed $400 million of funding from the project. The new proposal, with its smaller scope and lack of reliance on federal funding, should have an easier time -- Congress voted to allow an expansion last June. Parts of the project, including the floating stage, will require federal approval.

The Kennedy Center is home to the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera and the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, along with several musicals, international festivals and the annual Kennedy Center Honors. Touted as the busiest performing arts facility in the country, it plays host to 3 million people a year.

mconnolly@washingtonexaminer.com

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Matt Connolly

Examiner Staff Writer
The Washington Examiner