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Anonymous Donation to Cultural Arts Center

Foundation for the Cultural Arts will ask the town to match donation 2-to-1.

"Imagine '06," a campaign to promote the building of a cultural arts center in downtown Herndon by 2006, has turned into reality for the Herndon Foundation for the Cultural Arts.

Or at least more of a reality than it was two months ago.

"We would like the lease for the Hands Inc. company to end in 2005 and the beginning of [2006] to mark the start of taking over the building," said Melody Fetske, president of the Herndon Foundation of the Cultural Arts (HFCA), in light of a recent anonymous donation.

At the end of December the foundation — created to raise funds for a cultural arts center in town — received a $50,000 donation by a Herndon resident with certain stipulations.

In a letter to the town requesting a grant of $40,000 — written by Fetske and Richard Downer, foundation director and treasurer — the donor requires the donation "be used to match funds spent by the Town of Herndon, or allocated to the HFCA, for the building evaluation, design and conversion costs of the current Hands Inc. building into an operating arts center …. This stage should include, at a minimum, a performing arts space."

The requested matching ratio is for the foundation to provide $20,000 and the town to triple that by matching $40,000 by or before 2006.

"The timeline on the money is just to get some commitment from the town to move forward," said Fetske, adding the additional money from the donation will be used for future arts center developments.

"We hope the town can see we're serious," she said. "We're not going to be discouraged by debates; we're not going to be discouraged by political climate."

Fetske said the foundation would like to proceed immediately with the evaluation so the group can devise a business plan for their next appearance before the Town Council.

"We just want to make it happen so we can show that what is being said is being realized," she said.

ON JAN. 7 Fetske and Downer met with Town Manager Stephen Owen, Mayor Michael O'Reilly and Town Attorney Richard Kaufman to inform them of the donation.

"I think that the request will be included as an item for our mid-year budget review," said O'Reilly of the $40,000 grant request.

Because the council was scheduled to hear from Mary Touhy, director of finance, at its Feb. 1 work session and then hear public comment at its Feb. 8 hearing, O'Reilly said this request could fit into that schedule.

"I was a little surprised by it," O'Reilly said about the anonymous donation and stipulation that the town match funds, adding the group's charter is to raise funds for the arts center. "But that amount of money, in the grand scheme of things, is not that significant."

Although the matching stipulation could appear as an ultimatum, Fetske assures it is not.

"This is not an ultimatum, this is a request for funding," she said. "If this doesn't produce funding then we'll talk to [Owen] and [O'Reilly] again and say if this didn't work what will?"

Fetske added — after continually hearing from council the foundation needed money for the arts center to take shape — the foundation is "finally putting money where our mouth is."

"We'll be able to tell a lot about what the town will do in the future in supporting this arts center," Fetske said about the town's possible response to the request. "If they don't [match the funds] we'll go back and re-evaluate and adjust."

If the Town Council approves the request to match the funds 2-to-1, Fetske said the organization will devise a business plan, adding the group is looking for a Herndon-based consulting company to help with that plan.

O'Reilly said even if the group is granted the money, the lease for the Hands Inc. building is up for renewal and will be extended through 2005 to the current tenant — a publishing company.

"We're fine with the lease extension because that gives the foundation time to develop a strategic plan and a business plan," said Fetske.

Kaufman said as town attorney he could not say one way or another what the town could and would do with the foundation's latest request, adding it was up to the council.

"The Town Council does sometimes make grants to charter organizations and nonprofits," Kaufman said of the town's history. "There is a statute that allows them to do that."