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ICA abandons expansion effort into neighboring office tower

A proposed museum expansion would have connected the Institute of Contemporary Art with an adjacent office tower, seen under construction in December 2014.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff/File

The Institute of Contemporary Art has abandoned its effort to expand into the 17-story office building immediately across the street, a plan that would have increased the museum’s gallery space by a third.

“The conclusion we came to was that the 12,000 square feet of floor space wouldn’t provide enough public impact for us, and our resources would be better spent pursuing alternative visions for growth,” ICA director Jill Medvedow said on Tuesday. “In the end, we wanted to look and see what was the best way to expend our resources to get the most public impact.”

The expansion plan would have connected the waterfront museum via a sky bridge to a 19,000-square-foot, two-story space in an adjacent tower being developed by the Fallon Co. The proposed expansion would have included 6,000 square feet of new galleries in a double-height space, with the remaining area devoted to back-of-house uses such as curatorial offices, conservation, and study spaces.

“We’ve been looking at this for months in the same way that anyone looking at any business deal would do,” said Medvedow, who earlier estimated the expansion would cost $10 million to $12 million. She added that although “the budget did expand as we got deeper into looking at it,” the project’s expense was not a deciding factor.

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“The issue is not cost, the issue was value,” she said. “It became more and more clear that to create the spaces we wanted, the value wasn’t there. The impact we wanted to make on our space wasn’t there.”

The ICA’s physical expansion effort hinged on the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s municipal harbor plan, which called for a total of 127,000 square feet of cultural and civic spaces spread throughout Fan Pier and Pier 4.

A proposal before the BRA had envisioned transferring some of those spaces between parcels, which would have enabled the ICA’s proposed expansion to take place.

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Monday night, however, the ICA board voted unanimously to abandon the museum’s efforts to transfer the space.

“I’m not at all disappointed. If I was disappointed we would have pursued it. If we were collectively disappointed, we would have continued to proceed,” said Medvedow. “In that sense, nothing has changed except that we learned more and factored the risks and rewards and came to a decision.”

Richard McGuinness, the BRA’s deputy director for waterfront planning, said now that the ICA’s proposal is off the table, the allotment of cultural and civic spaces in the area would remain unchanged.

“We’ll just go back to the original proposal. When the ICA approached the city we were really pleased, and we were even more pleased that we had the space to help them,” said McGuinness. “It’s disappointing that we couldn’t make this opportunity work for the ICA, but there’s still a good amount of square footage built into the program at Fan Pier.”

Since opening in December 2006, the 65,000-square-foot ICA has hosted some 2 million visitors.

The building features 17,000 square feet of gallery space, and when the museum announced its proposed expansion last spring, Medvedow said the ICA needed more space.

“Our collection is growing and our programs are growing,” she told the Globe at the time. “Our teen programs are at capacity so we need more space.”

Medvedow said Tuesday that although the museum’s needs have not changed, the ICA has shifted its focus to do more with what it has.

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“Those issues have not left,” said Medvedow, who said she and her colleagues were looking at reimagining the current museum’s space as well as exploring other off-site partnerships.

“There are a lot of new paradigms for growth that we need to consider. We’re at the beginning of that process,” she said. “There are changes in this building that allow us to do more with what we have, so I think that will be our first order of business.”


Malcolm Gay can be reached at malcolm.gay@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @malcolmgay