2006_10_whitneyexp.jpgThe Whitney's third expansion plan in 20 years may be abandoned if it moves its addition to a site at the southern tip of the High Line. The space opened up after the Dia Art Foundation announced last week that it was not building a museum there.

The interesting backstory is the Renzo Piano-designed Madison Ave. addition, a nine-story tower that would have connected to the original 1966 Marcel Breuer building through glass bridges. Located in a historic district, the Whitney has been sparring with Upper East Side residents and preservationists, reports The New York Times' Robin Pogrebin.

It's taken the Whitney more than a year - and endless drafts - to get approval for the Piano design. Landmarks even asked that the new entrance be chopped in half to preserve a historic brownstone, one of several owned by the museum.

Staying uptown means a smaller exhibition space, from 30,000 to about 20,000 square feet, one of the reasons the museum is weighing the High Line option. Another reason for downtown: Being able to keep the Madison Avenue museum open, as an expansion would force it to be closed. And then there's the excavation - it's easier to build from the street than from behind a row of landmarked brownstones. Construction costs already have reached $200 million, pre-excavation.

In 1985, the Whitney spent $37 million on an expansion design by Michael Graves and in 2003, it shelled out $200 million for a Rem Koolhaas design that never saw the light of day. The Piano design may suffer the same fate.

And the Whitney will have to hustle if it wants to secure the downtown site.

All of a sudden, we're feeling kind of exhausted.