WASHINGTON — Jeffrey Herbst, who has led the Newseum for the past two years, has stepped down as president and CEO, and the museum’s prime benefactor, the Freedom Forum, is considering options for the financially struggling museum, including the sale of its iconic Pennsylvania Avenue building.
While the Newseum attracts more than 800,000 visitors a year, the most for any D.C. museum that charges an admission fee, the Freedom Forum says it has been difficult to raise what it costs to operate the museum through admission fees, especially in a city full of free museums.
Over the past 20 years, the Freedom Forum has invested more than $500 million to build and fund the Newseum. Despite that, and donations from individuals, foundations and companies, the Newseum has not been able to become self-sustaining.
“It has become obvious that the current model, where the Freedom Forum is the primary funder of the Newseum, cannot continue indefinitely at this level,” said Jan Neuharth, chair and chief executive of the Freedom Forum.
“Left unchecked, this deficit spending rate would eventually drain the Freedom Forum’s entire endowment, and the annual cash drain prevents us from allocating any new capital to First Amendment programs that are at the heart of our educational mission.”
As part of the review process, the Freedom Forum has retained advisers to review any and all options, including how the building is used, full and partial sale and lease-back options, joint ventures or additional condominium structures for shared use, and a possible outright sale of the landmark building.
The Newseum will remain open during the strategic review process.
During the review, the Newseum will now be led by Neuharth, Peter Prichard, chair of the Newseum and Scott Williams, chief operating officer of the Newseum.
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