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Chamber Defends Its Community Ties

Council hearing item turns into debate of Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce's commitment to Herndon.

What began as a resolution to clear up a lease agreement's legal wording became a debate of the newly-renamed Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce's commitment to Herndon at last week's Town Council public hearing.

The hearing item that initiated the debate was a resolution to correct the wording on a July 2005 lease between the Town of Herndon and the Herndon-Dulles Chamber of Commerce to reflect the chamber's new title, The Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce. The DRCC's members, which include approximately 850 businesses and organizations throughout the Dulles corridor, approved the name change last August 177-1.

The new structural arrangement made the DRCC as the umbrella organization for the two local branches of the Herndon Chamber of Commerce and the Centreville Chamber of Commerce, according to chamber president Eileen Curtis. The group originally began in 1958 as the Herndon Chamber of Commerce, but evolved and changed names as the business regional business community grew, she added.

The month-to-month lease, which allows for the use of a two-room office suite measuring approximately 350 square feet on the top floor of the town-owned former Town Hall, is signed through July 2010.

After nearly an hour of debate focusing on the DRCC's commitment to Herndon, with some residents voicing disapproval of resources for a chamber that didn't exclusively serve Herndon while other business leaders and community organizations expressed support for the chamber, the council voted 4-2 to approve the name change. Vice Mayor Dennis Husch and council member Charlie Waddell were the dissenting voices. Council member Bill Tirrell was out of the country.

"With a friendly lease like this with a non-profit organization, probably nothing would have happened" to jeopardize the chamber's stay in the suite provided the resolution was not passed, said town attorney Richard Kaufman. "This is just a standard procedure to keep up the name and consistency in our records."

WHILE THE DEBATE would not have ended in a dismissal of the chamber from the property, even if the resolution were defeated, Husch said his intentions were to put the chamber "on notice" that even though it had changed names that it was still expected to serve the community. The council holds the right to cancel the chamber's lease with a 90-day notice, according to the contract.

Husch added that his perception that the chamber no longer worked to serve the community was bolstered when he learned that the group, with the help of private donations and individual funds purchased a near 3,000-square-foot office suite in Chantilly to house some of its staff members.

"My point was that we used to have a Herndon Chamber of Commerce for our businesses and then we had a Herndon-Dulles Chamber of Commerce — and then all of a sudden, the name Herndon disappeared," Husch said. "Why did I go through that opera? I wanted Ms. Curtis and the Dulles Regional Chamber of Commerce to know — that if they wouldn't serve our community that I'm sure there could be another Herndon Chamber of Commerce who can come in to better serve our businesses."

The name change, which Curtis noted took about two years of consideration and debate before it was brought to a vote, was done more to increase the growing organization's profile when it worked to represent the interests of all of its organizations, not just the ones in Herndon.

THAT LACK OF commitment that Husch said he saw to the Herndon community is only a misperception, said Danny Vargas, a member of the board of directors of the DRCC and a volunteer marketing director for the group.

"We've been the Herndon Chamber of Commerce for 50 years and that hasn't changed and never will change," Vargas said. "We will continue to be dedicated to serving the Herndon community and if that message didn't come across then that's our fault and we need to correct it."

The chamber-sponsored activities that take place in Herndon and the Herndon area in recent years have included the organization's "Friday Night Live" free concert series on the town green, an award-winning educational partnership with Herndon High School and monthly business promotional summits for local members, among others, Curtis said.

"The chamber has always had and continues to have a very close relationship with Herndon High School and our students," said Frances Ivey, principal of Herndon High School, who, along with the DRCC, accepted the award last summer for Fairfax County Public Schools' community-educational partnership of the year. "It really was just a change of name — the chamber will always be there to support us whenever we need it."

On top of the community activities it offers is its role in representing and promoting local businesses, Curtis added.

"We have helped start out businesses in Herndon [and] have worked to make our legislatures aware of their existence, and represented them with the press," Curtis said. "We are a major engine to the area in terms of economic development."

THE NEED FOR the location in Herndon has not changed over the years, said Curtis, who noted that it is even more imperative for the group's continued presence at the old Town Hall following the purchase of its second location.

"We need to maintain a footprint in Herndon if we are going to be able to serve the community to the best of our ability here," she said, underlining that funds with the group are tight following the Chantilly purchase. "It would be unreasonable to expect anyone who incurred one piece of debt to turn around and pick up another."

That being said, Curtis added that she was still confident of the town's close relationship with the chamber.

"I think that the Town Council in the main appreciates what the chamber does," she said. "If they had all the correct information I think that [they] all would concur that the chamber has supported and will continue to support local businesses."

As a remedy to the perceived inconsistencies, Curtis said that the council is now engaging with the town to schedule a monthly status report of chamber activities that would most likely be delivered during a council public hearing. She added that she is glad that the warmer months are approaching, as several of the chamber's Herndon activities will be coming up.

"If anything I think it's a good news story for us," said Vargas. "The Town Council and Herndon Chamber of Commerce got a chance to publicly solidify their relationship."