Kennedy Center unveils first look at expansion — and its new budget
June 5, 2018
By The 2030 Group
By: Rebecca Cooper
The white concrete curves of the Kennedy Center’s new pavilions soar above what’s still an active construction site in the center’s first major expansion in its nearly 50-year history.
Unfortunately, as with many projects so sweeping in scope, the budget has also soared.
The project is now expected to cost $175 million, up from an original estimate of $100 million, and the center won’t have its official grand opening until September 2019, more than two years later than expected when the project kicked off in 2014.
David Rubenstein, chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and co-founder of D.C. private equity giant The Carlyle Group LP (NASDAQ: CG), told press and key donors gathered Tuesday that the center will now work to raise a total of $250 million, up from $170 million raised so far.
That sum will cover any additional construction overruns and programming of the new facility, which the Kennedy Center has dubbed The Reach. Designed by Steven Holl Architects, the Reach will add 72,000 square feet of interior space, much of which will be open to the public. The project increases the center’s public-facing areas by 20 percent, according to President Deborah Rutter.
The pavilions are connected to each other and the main building below their impressive above-ground structures, and the project includes an updated parking garage, large swaths of green space between the pavilions and a simulcast wall that will allow visitors to view performances while sitting outside of the main performance halls.
The project also includes three studios for rehearsals, performances and other events, a lounge for artists and the public, and a cafe. There will also be connection to the Potomac River via a pedestrian bridge over Rock Creek Parkway.
Rubenstein and Kennedy Center board members had already raised their funding target once, from $125 million to $175 million in 2015. The organization went through a long approval process that included scrapping initial plans for a floating pavilion on the river as part of the project.
“Initial estimates turned out to be lower, as they often do when you’re building things, so I’m not really surprised,” Rubenstein said Tuesday in an interview on the sidelines of Kennedy Center’s event. “We have a very complicated design, and this is not only for construction, but operations, so we can make sure we can do things when the building is open beyond just having the building open.”
The increases are due to several factors. Contractors discovered hazardous material underneath the site that had to be remediated. The group’s agreement to partner with D.C. Water to reduce sewage output also created a delay that increased costs.
Another reason is the high-tech concrete used throughout many of the buildings. The material had to be poured in large pieces that create the pavilions’ signature internal and external swooping lines. On the buildings’ interior, specialized “crinkle concrete” serves to soundproof the facilities, rather than acoustic tiles.
Rubenstein gave attendees a preview of his elevator pitch for donors who will help make up the additional $80 million — ironically on a day that commemorated the 50th anniversary of the death of Robert F. Kennedy, brother of the center’s namesake.
“Anything that’s almost 50 years old could use a touch-up from time to time. We thought we could do a better job of reminding people of the great things that President Kennedy did, and also do a better job for the artists and the people who attend the performances,” Rubenstein said. “It’s going to be a very inviting place, much more modern than we have today.”
Visitors will be able to look in on the National Symphony Orchestra rehearsing or dance students working on routines. School groups will be able to bring students into a learning lab that gives them a behind-the-scenes look at how productions comes together. Green space will unite the pavilions and the Kennedy Center’s main terrace. Sight lines within the new buildings create an air of connectivity even as there are three separate sections: the Skylight Pavilion, the River Pavilion and a Welcome Pavilion.
Rubenstein, who has served as chairman of the Kennedy Center’s board since 2010, kicked off the venue’s fundraising campaign for the expansion with his own gift of $50 million and is thrilled to see it coming together as it has.
“When I became chair, I said, ‘What can we really to transform the place?’” Rubenstein said, noting a previous expansion plan had fallen by the wayside in the wake of the 2008 recession. “This was designed to revive it in a way that was more affordable. And now, when you see it, you say, ‘I just can’t wait to see it open.’”