WASHINGTON (Washington Business Journal)–The organization planning an Armenian Genocide museum two blocks from the White House owes more than $350,000 in back property taxes and is mired in litigation, delaying the project by at least two years.
The Armenian Genocide Museum and Memorial Inc., owner of the long-vacant Federal American National Bank building at 14th and G Streets NW, on Tuesday asked for, and received, a two-year extension from the Board of Zoning Adjustments on zoning variances that it had also received from the same panel in 2008. The bid for an opening “before 2011,” as the museum’s website continues to promise, is clearly not in the cards.
As it struggles to break ground on the 50,000-square-foot museum complex — a memorial to 1.5 million Armenians killed in the final days of the Ottoman Empire nearly a century ago — the nonprofit is racking up a massive tax bill. The building, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has an assessed value of $8 million and is subject to the District’s vacant property tax.
The museum owes $298,819 in real estate taxes — $217,280 in 2009 and $81,539 in 2010 — as well as $57,998 in public space taxes and $4,876 in Business Improvement District taxes, according to D.C. tax records.
The organization collected $2.76 million in grants, contributions and interest income in 2007, but only $742,474 in 2008, according to its Form 990 filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The museum ended tax year 2008 with $22.4 million in net assets.
Shane Dettman, vice chairman of the city’s zoning board, said the Armenian museum has presented “substantial evidence” to justify the extension. The issue, Dettman said, is an “inability to obtain project financing partly because of the economic climate but also due to some pending litigation that the applicant is tending to and a reluctance by major financial donors to support the project while that litigation is pending.”
Rouben Adalian, the project’s coordinator and director of the Armenian National Institute, did not return calls for comment. In an affidavit filed with the BZA, Van Krikorian, a museum trustee and chairman of its Building and Operations Committee, wrote that the “prolonged litigation” involves a donor who sought a return of prior contributions with profit. That donor placed a lien on the bank building, and major donors are “holding off until the litigation is resolved.”
When, and if, the project gets going, it will have to navigate touchy diplomatic waters given its proximity to a White House fearful of damaging U.S.-Turkey relations.
The Turkish government in March briefly recalled its ambassador from the District to protest a U.S. House committee vote condemning the Armenian mass killings as genocide. President Barack Obama, who supported a similar resolution when he served in the U.S. Senate, has ceased using the word “genocide” in statements on the issue, spurring condemnation from the Armenian National Committee of America.
The bank building is an example of an “elevated bank,” according to the Historic Preservation Review Board, which backed the museum’s concept design in 2008. The banking hall, unique in D.C., is raised up to the second floor to allow retail space at the street level.
The historically-protected Neoclassical exterior is clad in limestone with two-story arched windows opening to the banking hall. The museum proposes to use the hall and the fourth floor as exhibition spaces and to construct a contemporary limestone and glass addition to the rear of the building. The addition required a zoning variance, which the museum obtained in 2008 but was set to expire this year.
Charles Reed, chairman of the Advisory Neighborhood Commission with jurisdiction over 14th and G Streets, said the “beautiful” bank is a blight on the high-profile block as long as it remains vacant.
“[Adalian is] missing the income that building should be producing,” Reed said. “You wonder what’s the matter with him.”
Read more: D.C.’s Armenian Genocide museum owner owes back taxes, hits delays – Washington Business Journal