Will Billionaire Collector Mitchell Rales Be the Next Barnes? First He Needs a Sewer

Emily Rales and Mitchell Rales, 2010. (Courtesy Patrick McMullan)

Mitchell Rales, the reclusive billionaire who made a name for himself manufacturing piping, wrenching and drill parts for the science and technology industries, and who owns a multimillion-dollar art collection that includes major works by Calder, Koons and Rauschenberg has of late been coming out of his shell, according to an article in The Washington Post. The reason? Mr. Rales has high hopes for his private museum, a 25,000-square-foot space that opened in 2006. While it’s open to the public, it is exceedingly tricky to visit, being that it’s only open on Thursdays and Fridays, and you have to schedule an appointment.

Mr. Rales’s plan would change all that. Located at Glenstone, Mr. Rales’s 200-acre estate in Montgomery County, Md., the museum would be expanded to include another larger exhibition space, at 125,000 square feet, which would place it among the world’s foremost privately owned museums, including Philadelphia’s Barnes Foundation, New York’s Frick Collection and the Phillips Collection, in Washington, D.C . The only glitch is that Mr. Rales is seeking a link to the county’s sewer system—to support all of the many trekkers who will be making the pilgrimage to his new space. And he’s been lobbying his neighbors and local officials at parties and meet-and-greets in the hope of getting his way. Even with his billions, he may not get his way.

From the story:

Glenstone is in an area of Montgomery where, to help control growth, sewers are generally banned; instead, septic systems are used. The county planning board voted down Rales’s request in late May, citing environmental concerns and the risk of setting a precedent that could dismantle the sewer ban throughout the slow-growth area. Local environmental groups and some neighbors are opposed, noting that, at 3,000 feet, the sewer line would be one of the longest ever approved by the county and would run across an environmentally vulnerable stream.

“When we start allowing billionaires. . . to circumvent the law and the process to buy their way into what they want, I think there is a problem,” said Caroline Taylor of the Montgomery Countryside Alliance.

Who is Mr. Rales, exactly? Here’s an interesting piece from 2008 by the Washington City Paper that gives the skinny on the billionaire and describes a tour of his private museum. Will Billionaire Collector Mitchell Rales Be the Next Barnes? First He Needs a Sewer