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Votes

Sully Field House Still Has Interest

Although the partnership agreement for a Sully District field house has disintegrated, interest in it has not. Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) as well as school-system representatives say they'd still like to see it someday become a reality.

"I'm disappointed that the field house arrangement fell through," said Frey. "I think what we really need to do is to get all the folks together and sit down and really see what everybody's needs are."

A 150,000-square-foot field house was to be constructed near Westfield High and next to the new Cub Run Rec Center in Chantilly. It would have provided space for a variety of sports — including indoor track and field — plus large-scale events such as conventions and graduations.

The Fairfax County Park Authority signed a 30-year lease agreement last December with a private entity, West County Field House LLC, to develop and run the facility. But when it proved too difficult to obtain the commercial financing the project required, the whole partnership agreement unraveled.

AMONG THOSE most upset about this turn of events was Del. Gary Reese (R-67th), a huge fan of the field house concept since the idea first arose, years ago. But even he couldn't save it.

"This thing started a long time ago when Gary was still on the [Fairfax County] School Board, and I think there were some different views [about the field house then]," said Frey. "I don't know if the School Board still has the same perspective and still thinks they have the same needs."

When it came down to it, he said, the School Board members "weren't as willing to commit to some of the use times that they had been previously. Obviously, the indoor track was mostly for them."

However, Sully District School Board representative — and School Board Chairman — Kathy Smith isn't ready to give up on the field house, just yet. "There definitely is still a commitment there," she said. "I think it's a good idea. The problem was finding a business model that's profitable."

She doesn't know if the new members of the School Board knew about the field house. But, said Smith, "If it's a place where you can have indoor track and graduations, that would be wonderful. It's still needed, but [also involved is] balancing [the other needs of the school system] and finding the right partnership."

The school system's Dean Tistadt, assistant superintendent for Facilities and Transportation Services, agrees. "Absolutely — we're still very much interested. The school system's desire for [a field house] and proposed utilization did not change." He, too, pointed a finger of blame at the business model that was crafted to encourage private sports entities to run their operations out of the field house.

And John Nettles, manager of West County Field House LLC — a limited-liability company created for the purpose of the private/public partnership — found it impossible to get the funding necessary to construct the facility. To his dismay, he discovered that no one was willing to bring a sports program to the field house for any more than a two-year period.

"WHEN THEY put their business model together, the financing institutions said they weren't sufficiently persuaded by and comfortable with [it]," explained Tistadt. "They didn't think the revenue stream would be large enough for them to make the amounts of profit they needed."

As a result, he said, West County Field House LLC wanted the county to solve its problem — but it just wasn't possible. Said Tistadt: "The private partner asked the county to back the financing — putting the full faith and credit of the county behind it — which the county can't legally do."

Failing that, he said, West County asked the school system to increase its utilization level of the field house, plus its percentage of the revenue stream. "We turned over every rock to see if there were other opportunities for use there — such as adult education or the performing arts — to up our utilization, but without success," said Tistadt.

"We really did try very hard," he continued. But realistically, he said, indoor track and graduations aren't year-'round uses, "so they'd have to get the bulk of their revenue stream from the private uses."

Nonetheless, Tistadt said the school system is still interested and, "if something could be put together, we'd love to see it happen. I was disappointed that they couldn't pull it off."

Supervisor Frey, too, remains optimistic and doesn't believe all is lost. "I still think the concept is sound and the demand is there," he said. "We just need to get a better grip on the public-use portion of it. They say nothing good is easy, so I still think we'll get there."