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Arts Center Dances Around Town

In the movie "Field of Dreams," a man listens to a voice in the wind, builds a baseball diamond out of his farm and almost goes bankrupt. Fortunately for him and his family, Hollywood bailed them out.

But Herndon is not Hollywood and the question people have been asking, even those serving on the cultural arts center advisory committee, is whether or not the town’s field of dreams is just that, a pipe-dream with a price tag that will bankrupt the Town.

"Until this time, Phase II was thought of as a possibility," said committee member and Herndon resident Richard Klare at the March 6 public forum. "After tonight, it’s very distant. The town can never build Phase II on its own. It would need county or state involvement. That’s a given."

THE FORUM gave the public an opportunity to see a scale model of the Town of Herndon with movable blocks, also to scale, of potential aspects of a cultural arts center. Between 50 and 60 people attended.

"The presentation helped," said committee member and Herndon resident Tom Hatfield. "This is exceedingly complex. I don’t have a clue about site yet. It depends on whether or not we go for Phase I and II or just Phase I. The arts center is to serve as an aesthetic and economic focal point of the town."

"With the catering aspect, there’s no sense in replicating the restaurants in the area. It will serve a niche not provided by the restaurants," said Hatfield of the proposed multi-purpose room with a catering pantry adjacent as a part of Phase I. "It could be used for classes, lecture, small weddings or bar mitzvahs."

Other aspects of a potential Phase I include a 275-seat theater with stage and auditorium that would be supported with a lobby, restrooms, storage space, a rehearsal studio, dressing rooms, scene maintenance and repair shop as well as a broadcast and teleconferencing studio. The consultant for Phase I estimated that a facility of just less than 32,000 square feet would be needed.

Phase II would contain the aspects of Phase I, but in larger dimensions with some additions. The theater would have 650 seats, more dressing rooms, additional classrooms and a larger multi-purpose room. Phase II is estimated at just over 64,000 square feet, according to the consultant.

BOTH PHASE I and Phase II were presented by William E. "Will" Horne and Scott Wilson, a partner with Wilson Butler Lodge Inc., an architectural firm from Boston hired by the committee as a consultant. The firm's expertise is in the design of performing arts facilities such as the Center for the Arts at Towson University in Baltimore. The firm was hired to evaluate potential downtown sites, select three sites for final evaluation and make recommendations to the committee said committee chairman Richard C. "Rick" Thoesen.

"They will make recommendations on site selection as well as center governance, management, and potential fund-raising opportunities," said committee member and Herndon resident Ellen Kaminsky.

More than 10 sites were presented by Horne and Wilson to demonstrate what could fit where. Such sites included the area of Elden and Center Streets, the Fortnightly neighborhood, a site near the animal hospital, The Closet and Russia House, the area of Monroe and Elden Streets, the Municipal Building parking lot, an area west of Center Street up to the W & O.D. Trail, the space adjacent to the Moose Lodge and a site where Hands Inc. is located.

Long-time Herndon resident Connie Hutchinson raised a question about parking, to which Wilson responded that a 300 car garage could be built.

Although dollars and cents were not discussed, Wilson did have cost figures with him illustrating that Phase I would cost $8.95 million and a Phase II addition would cost $17.3 million.

"Those are Utopian numbers based on a wish list," said Thoesen. "We want a program that will satisfy the people in the community," he said, noting that the cost of a parking garage was not included in the figures. "Our task was to look at site only. Parking is more than likely to be provided on a separate site," said Thoesen.

The town already has a parking problem in the evenings with restaurants in the area and the current dinner crowd, said Herndon resident Steve Mitchell.

Herndon resident Stacey Sinclair said that she supported the idea of Phase I and a garage for 300 to 400 cars being built simultaneously. "It takes care of a parking problem and they wouldn’t have to worry about it in the future," she said.

WHILE MAKING no assessments, Springfield resident Kevin Goodale, owner of Fox-Seko Construction in Herndon said he was interested as a business owner in the community, not to mention the potential business.

Some assessments were made by some of the residents who are not members of the committee.

"I don’t like that site," said Herndon resident Midge Reese, pointing to the corner of Elden and Monroe Streets.

"I like site CC5," said Hutchinson, referring to the surface parking lot between the Fortnightly Library and the Municipal Building. "For the economic development and vibrancy, it is important to have the facility downtown," she said.

"Downtown cannot support Phase II," said Herndon resident Judy Downer.

"Why didn’t they explore the Pine Shopping Center?" asked Sinclair. "It’s necessary for them to look for the growth. The town will support Phase II after Phase I is in the surrounding area," she said.

"It would be important to know if there would be a Phase II before the site selection process," said Mitchell. "Preliminary, I’m excited. It will bring a dynamic to the downtown that would support the restaurants. I would support the KK site," he said. The KK site is the municipal parking lot where the Farmer’s Market convenes each spring and summer. "It moves the project back into the downtown, supports the core downtown businesses. This was a good exercise to go through," said Mitchell.

"We have never said there would be a Phase II," said Thoesen. "Based on information already reviewed, I personally think Phase II is not do-able downtown, physically or financially. I do not want to draw any conclusions until meeting with the committee on March 20 to afford them the opportunity to decide as a committee what to recommend to the mayor and the Town Council. Should we select a site for Phase I, Phase II or both," said Thoesen, adding that Wilson is also expected to present his recommendations, without regard to one phase or two phases by March 20.

Thoesen, also a member of the Town Council, said that the council would more than likely enter into a closed session for the purpose of selecting a site.