City Council committee OKs lease for Barnes museum

Posted: June 06, 2007

Despite some impassioned last-ditch opposition, a City Council committee yesterday approved a 99-year lease on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway for the famed Barnes Foundation art collection, clearing the way for the full Council to consider the measure before its summer recess.

The foundation, currently located across City Avenue in Lower Merion Township, is seeking to move its incomparable collection of impressionist, early modernist and African art to a new facility planned for the site of the Youth Study Center on the Parkway, between 20th and 21st Streets.

The Fairmount Park Commission gave its OK to the lease last month.

The city has yet to resolve one significant problem, however: what to do about the antiquated Youth Study Center.

The city wants to build a new juvenile facility in West Philadelphia at 48th Street and Haverford Avenue, but Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell has declined to introduce the necessary zoning bill that would make the move possible. Blackwell has cited a number of issues - ranging from parking to community amenities - that she believes still need to be addressed.

At yesterday's hearing, Joyce Wilkerson, Mayor Street's chief of staff, said that it had become "clear in the course of the past year" that the center would not be able to move in time to a permanent location.

The proposed lease calls for the city to vacate the center by May of next year. If the city fails to do so, the Barnes has the option of breaking the lease.

Wilkerson said that the city is currently considering two temporary locations for the 100 or so juveniles now housed at the center. She declined to name them and several Council members said they had not heard where the sites might be.

Wilkerson said "a guesstimate" of the cost of temporary relocation of the center would be $5 million to $7 million. Council members said $10 million would be closer to the mark.

A new Youth Study Center would cost in the neighborhood of $55 million, Wilkerson said.

The city would bear none of the cost of the center's demolition and the museum's construction under terms of the lease reported out of committee yesterday. The Barnes must provide for adequate parking and must agree to goals for minority hiring in the project.

Opponents of the move attending the hearing, including a member of the Lower Merion Township Commission, said removal of the famous collection from its home of 85 years would eviscerate the Barnes Foundation.

The foundation was established by Albert C. Barnes, who made his fortune in patent medicine. He died in 1951.

Contact culture writer Stephan Salisbury at 215-854-5594 or

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