Tax breaks, payment dispute haunt Glenstone Museum’s newly completed $200M expansion

Contractors who revamped the private museum are seeking at $24 million in damages
September 30, 2018 12:00PM

Construction workers; visitors to Richard Serra’s “Sylvester” at the Glenstone Museum. (Credit: U.S. Air Force photo Master Sgt. Heather Cabral, April Pink)

Glenstone Museum, home to billionaire couple Mitchell and Emily Rales’ private collection of contemporary and modern art, is opening this week after a pricey revamp in which contractors claim they were shortchanged.

Built in 2006, the complex that contains their collection is located a few miles outside of Washington, D.C. on the site of a former hunt club, in Potomac, Maryland. In its first seven years of operation, Glenstone attracted only 10,000 visitors, but, now its $200 million expansion is complete, that is set to change, as the New York Times reported.

The museum is now seven times its original size and spans 230 acres. The new 204,000-square-foot addition, designed by architect Thomas Phifer, will contain 65 artworks by 52 artists, including Brice Marden, Pipilotti Rist, and Roni Horn.

The project comes after Glenstone was among 11 private museums whose tax-exempt status was investigated by the Senate Finance Committee over concerns about sufficient public access to their collection–the basis for the tax breaks–in 2015. To assuage concerns, the museum incorporated two new cafés into its expansion and will now open the museum to the public at least four days per week.

The Rales hired Hitt Contracting of Falls Church, VA, to oversee the project, but the contracting firm claims that they are still owed $14 million in subcontractor fees. Hitt Contracting filed a lawsuit accusing the Raleses of breach of contract at the end of August in the Federal District Court in Maryland seeking $24 million in damages.

According to the Times, the couple say the case is “without merit” and that they look forward to responding “vigorously in court.”

The museum opens Oct. 4, but there are already a backlog of reservations to visit. [NYT]–Patrick Mulholland