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The Museum of Design Atlanta is leaving its downtown home for new digs in Midtown. In what could be a transformational step for the struggling but spunky institution, MODA will take up residence across from the Woodruff Arts Center, on the ground floor of the new headquarters of the architectural firm Perkins + Will, in early 2011.

The firm, which is currently renovating the building for its use, will design and build out a 9,000-square-foot facility in what used to be a parking area. MODA will have a storefront facade visible from the street, a shop and about 6,000 square feet of gallery space.

Perkins + Will President Phil Harrison says the firm will cover the $1.5 million cost of the design and construction. He has worked out a deferred rental payment plan for MODA, a shoestring operation with a staff of two and an annual budget of $800,000.

“We know MODA, and we want them to succeed,” says Harrison, who is on the MODA board. P+W architect Bruce McEvoy, who first floated the idea, is MODA’s board chairman. “It will be a good thing for Midtown. The High Museum of Art is supportive. I think there will be some good synergy.”

Ron Labaco, the High’s curator of decorative arts and design, has already met with MODA executive director Brenda Galina. “Both institutions can benefit from being in close proximity,” he says. “MODA has the younger, design-oriented audience that I’m reaching out to, and the High has a greater general membership, and I think that with good communication, we can capitalize on each other’s strengths if we plan exhibitions accordingly.”

Galina says, “Having Peachtree frontage in the culture district is a dream.” And it’s a timely one. “We have always struggled in our location in the Marriot Marquis Tower, but it was free. Then there was a change of owner, and we were told we’d have to pay rent. We knew we had to do something.”

Serendipitously, P+W was looking for a tenant for the new ground-floor space that would be in a related field or an amenity. With MODA it gets both, though as both sides admit, it’s a bit of a gamble. MODA will have to generate more income or snag more grants to be sustainable in the long term.

Galina pronounces herself  “thrilled and nervous,” but resolute. “It’s something we have to do. The time is right; the stars have aligned. We have to have the confidence that we can pull this off. It’s that or close the museum.”

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