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Backers of American Latino national museum push bill in Congress

March 18, 2013|By Mike Boehm
  • The Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building in Washington. Congressional backers of a national Latino museum have submitted a bill to secure it as the museum's site.
The Smithsonian Institution's Arts and Industries Building in Washington.… (Smithsonian Instituion )

Congressional backers of a proposed Smithsonian-affiliated museum devoted to the history and culture of American Latinos didn't succeed the first time around, so they're trying again.

The bipartisan bills resubmitted Friday in the U.S. House and Senate aim to designate an unused, 132-year-old Smithsonian building on the National Mall in Washington as the future site of an American Latino Museum.

If passed, it would not commit the federal government to build and fund the museum. Instead, it would designate the historic Arts and Industries building as its main site, and launch a planning process by the Smithsonian’s Board of Regents to consider design and construction issues and funding.

An earlier bill to secure the site and begin planning, submitted in November 2011, lapsed without being passed by the previous Congress.

The Senate bill's sponsors are Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Harry Reid of Nevada and Florida Republican Marco Rubio; House sponsors are California Democrat Xavier Becerra and Florida Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

A special commission of presidential and congressional appointees reported two years ago that the American Latino museum was feasible, estimating costs of $609 million or $402 million, split evenly between federal funding and private donations.

The cheaper option, which the commission preferred, called for displacing the U.S. Department of Energy from a nearby building so it could be renovated as a museum annex; the more expensive one would plant the annex underground.

The commission estimated that it would cost $47 million a year to operate the museum, with the federal government covering 40% of the cost.

The $500-million Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is under construction and scheduled to open in 2015.

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