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Signed, Sealed and Ready To Raise Funds

Mayor and foundation president sign cultural arts center agreement.

After a year of forming ideas, researching other towns and cities and finally writing (and rewriting) an agreement, Herndon's Foundation for the Cultural Arts' dedication was rewarded when Mayor Michael O'Reilly signed a written agreement allowing the group to formally raise funds, with the town's backing, for the construction of a cultural arts center.

"Imagine if you will, in the early morning an art workshop for seniors," said Melody Fetske, Foundation president, describing her vision of the "perfect day" at the proposed cultural arts center. "In a conference room there is a breakfast meeting being catered by one of our many local restaurants in the kitchen, while mothers come in with their children for a children's music and dance workshop."

In front of the board of directors and others instrumental in the creation of an agreement the town and foundation would accept, Fetske talked about the proposed center before signing the Memorandum of Understanding, or agreement, alongside Mayor Michael O'Reilly.

In an open letter, O'Reilly said, "[h]istory demonstrates that art serves as a catalyst for an improved quality of life and a source of economic growth. Artists from around the globe now call Herndon home and they bring a wealth of cultural expertise from their native countries. The Arts Center will provide a central location, within the downtown, where these artists can share their cultural treasures through performance, exhibits and classes."

In a brief speech to the board before signing the agreement, O'Reilly wished the group luck saying light-heartedly he thinks the ordeal with the formal agreement was a "learning experience for people at the Foundation as to what comes through Council."

"We'll do anything we can to help," said O'Reilly about the council's support of the final agreement.

IN THE MONTHS prior to the Nov. 3 signing of the final agreement, the foundation, town attorney and certain council members rewrote — many times — the initial Memorandum of Understanding presented to the council in early September.

In a Sept. 14 public hearing, the first draft of the agreement was deferred until Oct. 12 by the council after numerous residents expressed dissatisfaction with the funding of the proposed arts center.

Many of the concerns dealt with whether or not taxpayer money would be used — through a real estate tax increase — to fund the construction at the town-owned location on Center Street.

At the request of Town Attorney Richard Kaufman, the agreement was deferred until October so he could work with the foundation to tweak the language.

Council members decided in an October work session that they wanted all specifics of money to be taken out of the agreement, so the foundation would not be capped at raising only a specific amount — leaving the town to fund the remaining costs.

At the Oct. 12 public hearing, the council approved the redrafted agreement.

Kaufman explained at the hearing the new draft was "basically a policy and planned document that establishes a relationship between the Town and the Foundation for the construction of a cultural arts center at Center Street."

BEFORE THE SIGNING of the document last week, Eileen Curtis, president and CEO of the Herndon Dulles Chamber of Commerce and foundation board member, said the group had already contacted potential donors — all they needed was the formal backing of the town to go forward.

"We needed an MOU, we needed media materials, now we have those," said Curtis. "We've been doing a lot of behind the scenes work identifying what we're offering to donors and how we are going to approach them."

Curtis continued, saying now that the logistics of the agreement are complete, the foundation can focus on raising money and finding influential donors — which she added she already knows of some ready to step forward with the approval of the agreement.

To begin fundraising, the foundation prepared printed materials that include an open letter from Fetske, an open letter from O'Reilly, a list of board members as well as other materials on the importance of an arts center in town and a donor naming rights agreement.

They have also created a Web site for residents and donors to learn more and take a virtual tour of the proposed center at www.HerndonArtsCenter.org.

"For all who care about the arts, and the revitalization of Historic Downtown Herndon, the time is now to help the foundation raise funds to build, operate and endow Herndon's future Cultural Arts Center," said Fetske in her open letter. "Each small step brings us closer and I invite you to be a part of this wonderful journey. Together we are building something the whole community can take pride in and enjoy."

To learn more, visit www.HerndonArtsCenter.org.