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  • Pa. gives a $25 million boost to the Barnes
    30.03.2006 By Stephan Salisbury, www.philly.com

    Gov. Rendell said the money would go toward a new museum on the Parkway. Phila. will become a "must-see" city, he said.

    The vision of the renowned Barnes Foundation throwing open its doors on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and enticing swarms of visitors to the city with the sweet smell of art moved quite a bit closer to reality yesterday.

    At a news conference in the Grand Ballroom of the Park Hyatt at the Bellevue, Gov. Rendell announced that the state would contribute $25 million toward construction of a new home for the Merion museum on the site of the Youth Study Center, between 20th and 21st Streets. The grant announced yesterday is one of the largest such grants ever dispensed from Harrisburg.

    Bernard C. Watson, chairman of the Barnes trustees, said the state funding would ensure that "the plans we're putting together... will come to fruition."

    Make no mistake, Watson vowed, "we're going to move the Barnes."

    Rebecca Rimel, president of the Pew Charitable Trusts, one of three big foundations supporting the relocation effort, declined to say how much money had been raised so far. Pew, along with the Annenberg and Lenfest Foundations, strongly backed the move in 2002, when the Barnes announced it, and agreed to pony up $3.1 million to help cover operating expenses over two years. The foundations have since renewed their operating subsidy.

    The three foundations and the Barnes are seeking to raise $150 million - $100 million for construction of a museum on the Parkway and $50 million for the endowment. Reportedly, somewhere between $80 million and $100 million had been raised before yesterday's announcement.

    Rimel would not discuss fund-raising details. But she said that about 40 donors had pledged support so far and that a firm dollar announcement would be coming in the next few months. The state funding is the first publicly disclosed contribution.

    "We're hoping by the summer there will be a whole series of announcements," Rimel said. "We're very close to reaching our goal."

    In making his announcement, Rendell said the Barnes move would boost Philadelphia "to the ranks of the great cities of the world." Among art lovers and tourists, he enthused, Philadelphia will become "a must-see" city.

    The Barnes, strictly controlled by the will of its founder, patent-medicine tycoon and collector-extraordinaire Albert C. Barnes, won court approval for a move to the city in December 2004. Its legendary and invaluable collection consists of 181 Renoirs, 61 Cezannes, 60 Matisses and a vast array of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, African and African American art and artifacts.

    Substantial state capital grants are not uncommon. Gov. Tom Ridge, for instance, gave several redevelopment grants to city cultural institutions - $15 million to the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in 2000, $17.5 million to the Franklin Institute in the same year, and $22 million to the National Constitution Center in 2000.

    Yesterday's announcement brought to mind a 1992 grant made by then-Gov. Robert Casey Sr., who plopped $60.6 million in the city's lap to kick off funding for the Avenue of the Arts. That state funding provided the core dollars for a sheaf of Broad Street performing-arts spaces, most notably the Kimmel Center, which received half the funds.

    "With that, we were off, we were off to the races and the rest was history," said Rendell, who was mayor at the time. "When you look around and see what's happened [as a result] in some ways, it's unbelievable."

    The $25 million, which is technically a capital redevelopment grant to the city, may well not be the end of state support for the Barnes project. Rendell said he was prepared to help cover demolition and other costs down the road, "if necessary."

    Watson said the Youth Study Center site would be available by "the fall of next year and that's when we intend to break ground." He added that it would take less than two years to complete construction.

    Mayor Street said "the site will be available at the appropriate time," adding: "This is a vision that will happen and happen in a timely way."