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New Community Center for City?

Council accepts $5 million donation for new community center, green lights Best Buy at Fair City Mall.

At its last regular meeting of 2007, the Fairfax City Council was looking to the future on Tuesday, Dec. 11. Two major additions to the City of Fairfax are on the horizon: A new Best Buy store at Fair City Mall and the possible construction of the City’s first permanent community center.

After Mayor Robert Lederer and councilmembers announced the city had finalized an agreement for a $5 million donation from the family of Stacy and Geraldine Sherwood for the construction of a community center, the council further discussed the issue in a work session following its regular meeting.

"This is an exciting opportunity," said Councilmember Jeffery Greenfield. "It is my hope, as we move forward, that we can quickly establish a permanent community center along the Old Lee Highway corridor."

Councilmember Joan Cross thought the announcement came at the perfect time.

"This is a remarkable thing for the Sherwood family to do," she said. "I think it’s significant that we’re here in the last meeting of the year, in the season of giving, and I think it’s very appropriate."

The $5 million donation was done specifically for the construction of a community center. The money was donated up-front, will be held in escrow and dispersed as certain benchmarks are made with construction of the new facility. The Sherwood family also stipulated that space would designated for performing arts rehearsals and that the family names the building.

While last meeting’s approval of the donation doesn’t approve a new community center, Brian Lubkeman, city attorney, said that it’s "just getting things in motion."

A REPRESENTATIVE from the Hughes Group, the same firm that designed the Herndon and Falls Church community centers, and Mike McCarty, director of the City’s Parks and Recreation department, discussed three possible designs for the center, which is slated to be constructed at Van Dyck Park, next to the police department.

"The overarching goal we’ll have is to keep the aesthetics and usefulness of Van Dyck Park intact," said McCarty.

While the three designs range in size from 14,000 square feet-32,000 square feet, so does the price tag of the project, from $5.4 million for the smallest design, to $10.1 million for the largest.

Some councilmembers, such as Scott Silverthorne, had fiscal reservations for building a center that greatly exceeds the donation from the Sherwood family.

"I think that we’ve done a lot and have spent a lot of money in the past few years, and I think it’s time to put the breaks on it," said Silverthorne about the pricier designs. "We shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth and coming up with additional funding is going to be very difficult."

Councilmember Gail Lyon agreed.

"They all look lovely and I happen to like the location and natural lighting, I’m a fan of that," she said. "But, I’ll bring the bad news, this all costs money and we’re walking into a budget year that’s going to be tight."

While the council had trouble reaching an agreement as to which design the Hughes Group and Parks and Recreation staffers should further research, Lederer was still pleased with the progress.

"How do we take advantage of the opportunity and how do we not turn it into a political issue?" he asked. "If nothing else, it’s been the first public dialogue so the community can frame the issue and we can frame the issue."

Councilmembers agreed to look further into the design possibilities.

NOW THAT BEST BUY received approval from the City Council to move into Fair City Mall, residents can expect to see the store open it’s doors by mid-2009. The store’s trademark front sign, however, was still a topic of debate as the council was split on whether the sign was appropriate for the mall.

"I’d be fine with just the yellow tag because that’s their trademark," said Cross. "I think the blue slash is unattractive."

After some discussion, Silverthorne reminded the council that "it’s very difficult to legislate taste."

The mall, he said, "was in the doldrums and it has seen a little resurgence over the past 10 years, but not much."

"This is going to be a class-A project when it’s done and I’m looking forward to it," he said.

In other business, the council discussed the possibility of a light-emitting diode [LED] sign to be constructed outside of Fairfax High School. While the council saw the merit of having such a sign to display community and school-related events, they shared a general concern about the precedent it would set for other school and businesses looking to upgrade its signs.

Councilmember Cross was very supportive of the idea but didn’t want the city to pay for the project — an individual sign costs an estimate of $50,000 — saying that getting funding from the city is "totally out of the realm of possibility."

"I think it’s excessive, I don’t think we need it and it’s a chance for us to save a few dollars," she said.

The council agreed to further look into the matter.