A Vision for the Herndon Arts Center

A Vision for the Herndon Arts Center

Committee gets its first look at what a downtown arts center may actually look like.

The Cultural Arts Advisory Committee got a glimpse into the future Wednesday night and they liked what they saw.

Two days after the Herndon Planning Commission recommended slashing in half the funding for construction of the Herndon Cultural Arts Center, members of the committee working to bring the long-promised center to downtown got their first glimpse at what their 29,000-square-foot dream may one day look like.

"Everybody needs to remember that these are concept drawings and that we have just begun the process even though they look much more than that," said Ellen Kaminsky, the chair of the Cultural Arts Advisory Committee, shortly before unveiling the architect's most detailed drawings to date. "We wanted to give you a visual of what it might look like so as to help with our public relations and fund-raising activities."

From a bridge across the W&OD Trail to a 275-seat theater to a 100-person (seated) banquet hall, the proposed center wowed the committee. Judging by the spontaneous applause at the end of the presentation, the committee seemed pleased with the designs by Scott Wilson and Scott Butler of Boston group Wilson Butler Lodge Inc.

"It's very elegant. It's so enticing and so attractive," said committee member Melody Fetske. "So, when can we build? So just how close is it to what it could be?"

Saying he felt strongly about the project, Wilson explained that the drawings would be pretty similar if the town entered into a contract with his company. "If you go with another architect, they very well might want to re-invent the wheel," he said, smiling.

Les Zidel, another member, liked the design, because it "is so in scale with the downtown" and not "overwhelming." "You listened to what was in our best interests," Zidel said, complimenting the two architects. "You delivered to us exactly what we asked for."

Not all members were blown away by the initial drawings, Richard Downer, said his initial reaction was that the two-story glass facade building didn't "relate" to the neighboring library or municipal center.

"To tell you the truth," responded Wilson, "I don't know the library relates to anything."

Mayor Richard Thoesen, former chair of the committee, was at the meeting and he also expressed enthusiasm about the latest incarnation of the arts center. After seeing the water color rendering of a potential two-story entry hall, Thoesen, jokingly remarked, "That's a good lobby for fund raising."

The first two drawings the architects, Butler and Wilson, showed the committee at last Wednesday's meeting were the revised drawings of the block plan. In an April 11 memo to the town manager, Henry Bibber, director of community development, said the drawings did address "potential development that may occur on properties adjacent to the arts center property."

Concerns about parking had been addressed in previous meetings, as well as on Wednesday. The first drawing showed a total of 250 parking spaces. In his memo, Bibber said that it seemed possible to add "additional surface parking through full use of the town's property and by joining the unnamed new street," dubbed Arts Center Drive by the committee, with the existing 39-car lot, the former Paul Brothers property. In addition, Bibber seemed to agree with the architects' contention that a fourth floor could be added to the proposed parking structure.

At its April 7 Capital Improvements Project (CIP) public hearing the planning commission, in a 4-3 vote, recommended to cut the previously allotted $7 million budget to $3.5 million in 2009. Kaminsky broke the news at Wednesday's meeting. While she clearly disagreed with the commission's decision, she reminded her fellow committee members that the decision amounted to little more than a non-binding recommendation. She also speculated that there were "politics" involved in the decision. "We have got to get our people to Town Council public hearings," she urged. "Everyone you know who cares about the arts should be there on April 22. We need to rally this town."