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Foundation Lobbies for Arts Center

CIP Hearing Attracts Few Speakers

Arts supporter Ellen Kaminsky is trying to make the catch phase "Imagine '06" a reality when it comes to the proposed Herndon Cultural Arts Center, even if that means just breaking ground in 2006. The fund-raising campaign slogan adorns the wall of the Hands Inc. building in downtown Herndon, which will eventually be razed to make room for the center.

However, the arts center is not slated to receive any construction funding from the town until fiscal year 2007-08, according to the draft capital improvement program (CIP). The town has already financed a feasibility study, site selection, land acquisition, conceptual design and has funds in the CIP totaling $250,000 in FY '05 for the remaining design and engineering costs.

Kaminsky, and members of the Herndon Foundation for the Cultural Arts are hoping to convince the town to rethink the construction funding scheduled. The group is asking the Planning Commission and Town Council to not only move up the funding, but to spread it out over a three-year period, asking for $2 million in FY '06, $2 million in FY '07 and $1 million in FY '08. In all, early estimates place the cost of the center at $8 million, with the Foundation pledging to raise $3 million, leaving $5 million for the town to finance.

"We are recommending the board use a phased approach. Phase I would be the entire shell. Additional phases would be built as funds became available with the town taking responsibility for Phase I," said Kaminsky, a founding member of the Foundation, at a CIP public hearing before the Planning Commission Monday night. "It gives us the ability for naming opportunities. We could take a possible sponsor inside and point to the theater or gallery or stairs and say that could be named after you or a family member."

THE DRAFT CIP covers FY '05-10 and includes 55 projects, 43 of which would be financed through the general fund. The plan includes four new projects: a skate board facility, possibly located at Herndon Middle School, traffic-control cameras to be used for monitoring the flow of traffic and making needed signal-timing adjustments, W & OD Trail street-crossing improvements, and a town facilities utilization program, which is a study to determine how much space the town needs for its personnel, said Michelle O'Hare, a town planner.

"At this point it's really a wish list," said O'Hare of the draft. "There's a $2.3 million shortfall in FY '05."

The FY '05 portion of the draft includes slightly more than $7 million worth of funding for 22 projects ranging from sports field and parks improvements to the final phase of the Herndon Community Center renovations to a new police station to downtown streets improvements.

The Planning Commission is expected to take action on the CIP April 5, with the Town Council adopting the FY '05 portion of the CIP April 27 followed by the FY '06-10 portion May 25.

MONDAY WAS the first public hearing on the draft and it drew little attention — just five speakers, three of whom were there to lobby for the arts foundation's funding request. Members of the foundation made a similar plea to the mayor and Town Council Feb. 17.

"I know they want it sooner than later. … Their motivation is excellent," said Mayor Richard Thoesen of the arts foundation. "I think for a push to happen now is premature."

Thoesen said a public outreach campaign to educate the general public on the costs and benefits of a community art center would better serve the foundation in its fund-raising efforts than a financing plan, especially given a new Town Council will be elected in May. In addition, he said the CIP is balanced by the debt of the town at a rate of $1,000 per capita, which means projects and their placement in the CIP are subject to change.

The estimated cost of the center project has drawn some criticism within the community and has even raised calls for a referendum on the project, which Thoesen calls an attempt to kill the arts center. Thoesen said community outreach could "create a common vision and the public will to make this happen."

"It's going to be difficult to raise funds, even with a town commitment, if the community is split," Thoesen said. "I would be more patient, enjoy the elections, bring the new council up to speed and the public up to speed."

THE FOUNDATION MEMBERS disagree, believing an actual structure, even if its not finished, will help get attract donors.

"We can't ask people for money until the town says, 'Yes, we're going to build this,'" said Melody Fetske, also a founding member of the foundation. "The fund-raising report [a report created by AMS Planning & Research] says waiting until '08 is unwise. It would be difficult to maintain civic interest in the project."

Fetske said that while there are arts grants available, few if any, are for the construction of a facility.

"There are not many who do brick and mortar funds without matching funds. Most of these foundations are looking for something to be there. They are not looking to do a building, they are looking to enhance it," Fetske said.

Members of the Planning Commission expressed concern over how usable an unfinished arts center would be, and the need for more financing at the expense of other projects in the CIP.

"The town has shown a lot of commitment. There is a piece of land sitting over there," said Commissioner Robert Burk, referring to the Hands Inc. property, which the town purchased in 2002 for $1.5 million.

"I endorse what Commissioner Burk said, the town has already sunk $2 million into this. That ought to get someone's attention," said Commissioner William Tirrell.

Commission chair Carl Sivertsen cautioned that the CIP process is a long one and the panel needed to avoid getting caught up in one request.

"There are 43 projects on this one page and they all have merit," he said.

The next Planning Commission CIP work session is slated for March 22 at 7 p.m.