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Mayor Touts Site for Arts Center

Town agrees to buy Center Street property, hopes to bring a cultural arts center to downtown.

If the mayor has his way, Herndon residents will soon be flocking to a downtown cultural arts center. In a tentative agreement, that must first be approved by the Town Council, the Town of Herndon has agreed to purchase the 41,000-square-foot Hands Inc. property at 750 Center Street for $1.5 million to construct the long-proposed arts center, Mayor Richard Thoesen said at a press conference last week.

Thoesen said he hopes to build broad support for the project, within the town and the council, before the issue is debated publicly later this month. He added that he is confident that the public will, after hearing all the arguments, be as excited about the site selection as he is. "I am urging my citizens to support the downtown arts center," he said. "I cannot speak for council or for the public. This will be discussed during a public hearing so we really need the public to come out and support this."

<b>PRINT SHOP OWNERS </b>Joseph Wyzkoski Sr., and his son, Joseph Jr. were on hand, along with Vice Mayor Carol Bruce to announce the agreement that was made possible after a lengthy three-month negotiation process. While admitting that he wasn't looking forward to moving, Wyzkoski said he understood the town 's interest in his 1-acre plot of land. "I told the committee five years ago that this is where the cultural arts center should be because it completes the triangle," Wyzkoski said, referring to Herndon Fortnightly Library and the municipal center. "This has not been easy for us to part with, but I think, in the long run, it's a good opportunity for everybody."

The town does not account for construction costs associated with the proposed arts center until 2006. Therefore, the town agreed to lease the property back to Wyzkoski for two years while details about the center are finalized. Because he said he and his family feel strongly about the need for a cultural arts center, Wyzkoski said he was able to part with the land at a price that was not completely satisfying. "It was the only consideration that would deviate us from our long-range plans," he said.

The mayor said the council is set to vote on the proposal, which Thoesen described as a "fair exchange," at the Nov. 26 public hearing. "You might say we paid more than it's worth," the mayor said, "but we don't have to go through litigation to get it."

Wyzkoski, who has owned the property since 1994, told reporters that the final price tag was slightly lower than his family would prefer, but also more than the town had originally budgeted to spend. "We met in the middle," the owner said, after characterizing his negotiations with Thoesen as "mildly emotional and challenging."

<b>SOUNDING LIKE</b> an excited real estate agent, the mayor said the Hands Inc. site was the best because of "Location, location, location." The mayor trumpeted the benefits of a downtown site for the arts center. Located on the corner of Center and Vine streets in downtown Herndon, Wyzkoski's property is in close proximity of the municipal parking lot to the east and the Town Green and the Washington and Old Dominion Trail to the west.

"This is a very important step for our town. I strongly believe in the cultural arts center and finding a site is extremely important," the mayor said. "This would complete this end of, in terms of the Town Green, what I like to call the 'magic triangle.'"

Echoing the enthusiastic sentiments of the mayor, Henry G. Bibber, Department of Community Development director, who attended the press conference, said it was his opinion that the proposed site was the best possible downtown choice, despite the architect's stated preference for an alternate site at parking lot adjacent to the Herndon Municipal Building.

Ellen Kaminsky, the chairman of the Citizens Advisory Committee in charge of determining a site, said her committee was unanimous that the Hands, Inc. site was the best possible location. "We've made a good choice," Kaminsky, who succeeded Thoesen as committee chairman, said. "This is truly a milestone for our downtown redevelopment and for the future of Herndon."

Jim Deuel, the chairman of the Herndon-Dulles Chamber of Commerce, praised the committee's choice. "It's very exciting," Deuel said. "The addition of a cultural arts center would only add to the livability of the town, especially considering its walkable location."

Richard Klare, the president of the Elden Street Players, was not at the press conference, but he is on the advisory committee. Klare's theater will be part of the arts center and he is very excited about the suggested site. "I think there is the possibility that we could really serve as an anchor for the downtown," Klare said. "This is definitely the preferred site for the community. It will be great to have such easy access to the theater and visual arts. I also think a downtown theater will help other businesses and vice versa."

The mayor agreed with Deuel and Klare and said the addition of an arts center in the historic downtown district would further solidify Herndon's place as the "front door to Fairfax County."

"Herndon deserves nothing less than the finest cultural arts center in Virginia," Thoesen said.