After years of financial challenges for the Newseum, the Freedom Forum has agreed to sell the Washington, D.C., museum’s building for $372.5 million to Johns Hopkins University. The deal is subject to all necessary regulatory approvals and the Newseum plans to remain open to the public through 2019 as it seeks a new home.
The sale comes as at the conclusion of a 16-month strategic review of funding priorities for the Freedom Forum, the private foundation that created and is the primary funder of the Newseum. The foundation has committed more than $600 million to build and fund the Newseum since it reopened in 2008 in downtown Washington, D.C.
The purpose of the review was to identify financially responsible solutions for the building through partnerships, a partial sale, leaseback scenarios, or other joint ventures, according to the announcement. The review made clear that a sale of the facility was the best path forward to enable the organization and its affiliates to continue their mission.
The Newseum routinely ran financial deficits. In 2016, it reported almost $56 million in total revenue, including $28 million in program service revenue, such as admissions ($7.8 million) and rental and catering ($18 million), according to the most recent tax forms available. But expenses totaled $64 million, for a nearly $8 million deficit. Net assets were reported at $70 million.
“This was a difficult decision, but it was the responsible one,” Jan Neuharth, chair and CEO of the Freedom Forum, said in a press release announcing the sale. “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,” she said.
“We stand ready to continue much of the Newseum’s important work for decades to come — through digital outreach, traveling exhibits, and web-based programs in schools around the world, as well as hopefully in a new physical home in the area,” said Peter Prichard, chair of the Newseum board of trustees.
Johns Hopkins plans to renovate the building to use as a new consolidated center for its D.C.-based graduate programs within 400,000 square feet. There are more than 3,300 university faculty, staff and students in the city, including the Paul H. Nize School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the Carey Business School, and the School of Nursing.
“Over the last several years, we have been considering a number of different options designed to bolster and modernize our presence in D.C.,” University President Ronald Daniels said via a statement. “Further, we had hoped to secure additional faculty offices and research spaces, modern spaces for students, and a range of differently sized venues for public convening,” he said.
The Newseum started out in Arlington, Va., and in 2000 the Freedom Forum began plans to move it to downtown Washington. It closed in March 2002 and opened in its current location at 555 Pennsylvania Ave., and Sixth Street NW, in April 2008.
Established July 4, 1991 by USA Today founder Al Neuharth, the Freedom Forum is the principal funder of the Newseum and the Freedom Forum Institute, and sponsors work to educate the public about the importance of the First Amendment.