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Newseum misses its deadline

By Billy O'Keefe

LAURA ZAICHKIN / The Working Press
Those eager to explore the seven-level, 250,000-square-foot museum of news that looms over Pennsylvania Avenue and Sixth Street Northwest will have to wait. For how long no one is sure.

The 250,000 square foot Newseum is set to open in 2008. (Photo by Dave Stone/Working Press)

The 250,000 square foot Newseum is set to open in 2008. (Photo by Dave Stone/Working Press)

The scheduled Oct. 15 grand opening of the Newseum – with its 14 galleries and more than 6,000 artifacts – has been delayed until the first months of 2008, a Newseum spokeswoman said.
“Construction is not as far along as we had hoped,” said Susan Bennett, the Newseum’s deputy director and vice president of marketing. “It took a little bit longer than the construction company thought it would.”
Turner Construction, the project contractor, is scheduled to complete construction in mid-November, Bennett said. The Washington Post reported in August that the company expected to be finished by mid-September.
Bennett said the Newseum has not set a new opening date to make sure Turner Construction can meet its new deadline.
Turner Construction officials could not be reached for comment. The Post article quoted executive vice president William M. Brennan as saying, “The museum folks are journalists and are not used to building buildings every day.” Brennan said Turner knew from the beginning the project would be complicated.
The Newseum had to cancel and postpone events scheduled this fall because of the opening’s delay, museum officials said. The events were mostly corporate, with only one journalistic event – for the Reporters’ Committee for Free Press – delayed until next year, said Richard Fulks, the Newseum’s director of general services.
Fulks said the Newseum let organizations know as soon as possible that the opening was delayed and worked to find other venues for events.
Once the Newseum opens, organizations will be able to rent the entire facility, which can hold 2,500 people for a reception. The 90-foot-high Great Hall of News atrium can accommodate about 450 for a seated dinner. Two floors of conference facilities are part of the building but have a separate entrance from the museum, Fulks said.
“Generally people are renting the entire Newseum or a large portion of it,” Fulks said. “It’s going to be a very popular event venue.”
A major project of the Arlington, Va.-based Freedom Forum, the Newseum is funded, in part, by donations from corporations and foundations. Donors include News Corp., the Pulliam family, ABC News, Hearst Corp., Time Warner Inc., NBC News, the Greenspun family of Las Vegas and The New York Times – Ochs-Sulzberger family, according to the Newseum’s Web site.
The $450 million project has stayed within budget in spite of the delay, Bennett said.
Newseum’s new home will have some of the familiar features of the original museum in Arlington, Va., and expanded new exhibits and facilities. Bennett said the Newseum attracted about 500,000 visitors a year before it closed in 2002 to prepare for the new museum’s opening.
Newseum officials do not know how many visitors to expect when the Washington Newseum opens, Bennett said.
“We would consider it a success if we could attract as many,” Bennett said.
The Pennsylvania Avenue museum will charge admission, though the old Newseum did not. Admission price has not been set, Bennett said, but she said general admission would be $15 to $25.
One proposal is to set a ticket price of $17.91 to commemorate the ratification of the Bill of Rights.
Bennett said the admission price will be comparable to other museums that charge visitors. General admission at the Spy Museum nearby is $16.
The Newseum’s galleries and kiosks will provide information about the evolution of news, including information about the First Amendment, press freedoms in other countries, and electronic news, such as radio, television and online journalism.
Bennett said some of the Newseum’s new exhibits include a Pulitzer Prize photo gallery and a documentary featuring interviews with many of the winning photographers, a Sept. 11 gallery that examines how media around the world responded to the attacks, and a 535-seat, four-dimensional interactive theater.
Another source of pride for the Newseum, Bennett said, is the Berlin Wall gallery, which examines the role of the media in the wall’s 30-year history by using sections of the original wall.
“We think it’s one of the most interactive museums in the world,” Bennett said. “We can’t wait to open it.”