Coalition Presents National Mall Underground to Commission of Fine Arts

The U.S. Commission of Fine Arts was established by Congress in 1910. One of its central responsibilities is to guide the architectural development of Washington, D.C., primarily through the review of new projects. The CFA is one of several federal agencies that have authority over development on the National Mall, so it was one of the agencies to whom two members of Congress wrote on August 18 of this year, requesting review of the National Mall Coalition’s National Mall Underground proposal. The CFA asked the Coalition for an “information presentation” on the Underground, which Judy Scott Feldman and Arthur Cotton Moore provided on October 21 during one of the CFA’s regular monthly meetings.

The presentation was built around a set of PowerPoint slides illustrating flood risks to the Mall and its surrounding buildings, and the Underground as a means of addressing these risks –– as well as those of idling tour buses on the Washington community’s air quality. It also outlined how the Underground could provide clean geothermal energy to surrounding museums and public buildings, irrigation water for the Mall’s plantings, and a welcome center where bus drivers and visitors arriving by tour bus could relax and avail themselves of a cafeteria and restrooms. The presentation touched on the positive review of the proposal by the US Army Corps of Engineers, and on the financing plan developed for the Coalition by Ram Island Strategies and Bostonia Partners. Watch a recording of the 15-minute presentation below.

The presentation was well received, and the members of the CFA asked a number of thoughtful questions. We were surprised by the introduction of negative letters from staff in the National Park Service and the Smithsonian Institution, since we had understood that outside testimony was not welcome, and therefore had solicited none ourselves. The Smithsonian’s objections were especially concerning as we had a positive and welcoming meeting with senior leadership earlier this summer. The Coalition has already accommodated many of the issues and concerns the NPS and SI staff members raised — and looks forward to addressing them more formally in the future. There was no opportunity for public input during the meeting.

The CFA seemed to conclude that the Underground merits more study by the federal government. As reported in The Washington Business Journal, one commissioner knowledgeable about previous unsuccessful efforts to identify flood control and bus parking for the Mall area said, “I don’t see how we have any other choice. Flooding is a problem, and there’s no other place to go.” Presumably this conclusion that the project warrants further study, which is really all that we have requested, will be transmitted to the members of Congress and perhaps to other government decision-makers.

The CFA meeting is archived here.

A recording of our presentation is below.


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