Museum Costs Vary, But Figures Run Into Millions

The proposed $30-million Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center will join a growing list of new, smaller museums that have recently sprung up around the nation. Costs for constructing and operating museum buildings vary from city to city.

Art world officials say that costs generally run at least $125 a square foot for new repositories and an additional $2 million a year for maintenance.

Those figures were contained in a 1984 study by the Washington architectural firm of Hartman/Cox in a review of average prices for museum construction and operation. The firm also said that a hypothetical 100,000-square-foot building--roughly 20% larger than the projected Hammer complex--would require a $50-million endowment fund to maintain operations.

Museum construction and operation expenses "depend on the size and kind of collection, the size of the building, the number of people (on staff), and the number of anticipated visitors," said Pat Williams, director of accreditation for the Washington-based American Assn. of Museums, in a telephone interview Thursday.

An informal survey of major museums, including other so-called boutique museums that have recently opened, found that their construction costs far exceeded the Hartman/Cox estimates, however.

The Terra Museum in Chicago, which opened in two restored buildings last year and will be enlarged beginning in 1989, has already spent $35 million on its physical plant, according to director Harold P. O'Connell. The museum is located in an 11-story building and a five-story building on Chicago's posh Michigan Avenue. O'Connell would not cite the size of the museum's endowment fund nor its annual operating budget.

Houston's 100,000-square-foot Menil Collection museum also opened last year and cost $25 million to build, said its director Walter Hopps. Its annual operating budget totals about $2.9 million, and its endowment is "in excess of $15 million," he said.

Construction of downtown Los Angeles' 100,000-square-foot Museum of Contemporary Art on Grand Avenue cost $22 million, said the museum's associate director, Sherri Geldin. MOCA has a $25-million endowment, she said, and the museum's annual operating budget is $7 million for both its permanent site, opened in 1986, and its Central Avenue Temporary Contemporary edifice.

The 160,000-square-foot Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington cost $15 million to build in 1974, said a museum spokesman. Its annual operating budget is currently $3 million, and its acquisition fund, established in 1985 at $3.2 million, varies from year to year, he said.

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