After years of litigation, court hearings, protests and fundraising, the renowned Barnes Foundation, long of Latchs Lane in Merion, finally broke ground this morning on a new $150 million museum building along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.
"Let me say very clearly," Mayor Nutter said before an audience of several hundred assembled in an enormous tent at the 21st Street site, "after a long journey, the Barnes is coming to Philadelphia. This is going to happen . . . One of the greatest museums in the world will be right here."
The museum is slated to open in 2012.
Judge Marjorie O. Rendell, wife of Gov. Rendell, told the assembled crowd that the facility will "enhance the state's reputation" and transform Philadelphia into a "must destination" for visitors from around the world.
Not everyone at the future site of the museum, which has been in Merion for over 80 years, was pleased with the event, however. About 20 protestors stood on the Parkway and at the entrance to the site, hoisting signs in opposition.
"Crime Scene Do Not Enter," one said. "Toxic Area Tax Dump Site," said another.
The demonstrators have fought a losing battle for five years seeking to block the move, arguing that it violates the trust indenture creating the foundation. Albert Barnes, a wealthy patent-medicine maker, established the foundation and directed that the location of his collection - both on the walls of the Merion galleries and on the very site of Merion itself - could not be altered in any way.
But years of costly litigation in the 1990s and restrictions placed on endowment investments sapped the financial stablity of the foundation.