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Herndon Arts Center Takes Step Closer

As town readies for purchase, the public gets a chance to weigh in on the proposed downtown property and its $1.5 million price tag.

After a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday night, Nov. 26, the Town Council is expected to vote on the purchase of a property, backed by the mayor and the Herndon Cultural Arts Committee, that would become home to the long-proposed community arts center.

But before it can vote on the land, the council must first approve an additional $300,000 in funding to cover the slightly higher than expected $1.5 million price tag.

In a Nov. 14 memorandum to the council, Town Attorney Richard Kaufman outlined a draft of a contract, that if adopted, would authorize the town to purchase Joseph F. Wyzkoski Jr.'s Hands Inc. property at 750 Center St.

Under the terms of the contract, the Town of Herndon would pay Wyzkoski $1.5 million, including a $50,000 deposit, plus an additional $4,000 to cover half of the seller's appraisal costs. The town would also agree to rent the building back to Wyzkoski for $1 per year. Actual construction on the center is not expected to begin until fiscal year 2006.

Under the latest version of its Capital Improvement Program (CIP), the town had authorized $1.2 million in the current fiscal year to acquire land for the arts center, $300,000 less than the mayor's negotiated price with Wyzkoski. The town has also spent an additional $380,000 to study the proposed facility's feasibility and site development plans, according to the CIP.

<b>MARY TUOHY</b>, director of finance, said the council must authorize any budgetary transfer exceeding $30,000. In a report to council, Tuohy and her staff recommended that $300,000 from the Downtown Streets Improvement project be "temporarily transferred to the Cultural Arts Center capital project account."

In her report to council, which she outlined during the Nov. 19 work session, Tuohy recommended that the additional funds would be reinstated during the town's 2003 Mid-Year Budget Amendment process, a process slated for late January or early February. "The council could not have done an amended budget, there was not enough time because a public hearing needs 10 days notice," Tuohy said Friday. "That is why I recommended the transfer."

Tuohy added that, judging by the reaction of the council to the staff report, she expected council would follow staff recommendations and "probably" vote to approve the temporary transfer.

Vice Mayor Carol Bruce agreed. "The transfer is just a clerical bookkeeping issue," she said in an interview Friday. "It's no big deal."

The transfer, if approved, would "require a budget amendment," said the finance director, and, in all likelihood, will result in an additional use of General Fund undesignated fund balance," a balance that currently stands at $8.06 million.

A provision that would have given Wyzkoski access to only nine parking spaces was roundly criticized and universally rejected, said the vice mayor, who chaired last week's work session. "Everyone had a problem with that idea," she said. "We didn't want to hurt his business. The lease should cover the entire property."

As for Tuesday's public hearing, Bruce is confident that the public will come out in support of the measure. "I am sure that this is it," Bruce said. "Everyone I have talked to is very excited about the location. It really will be a key piece in the puzzle in our downtown revitalization efforts."