It wasn’t just Saturday morning’s ribbon-cutting that signaled the official opening of the City of Fairfax’s Old Town Square. It was all the people who gathered there, the children playing in the splash pad and the friends and neighbors enjoying themselves afterward at the Derby-Q festival.
And that’s the whole point of the City’s new park at the corner of University Drive and North Street – it’s a place for people to get together, relax and have fun.
Hundreds flocked there for the May 2 opening festivities. Besides Mayor Scott Silverthorne and the City Council members, also attending were Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-11), Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34), Del. David Bulova (D-37), Fairfax County Sheriff Stacey Kincaid, County Clerk of the Court John Frey, City Manager Bob Sisson, Fairfax City School Board members Tobey Sorenson and Jon Buttram, and former City Councilmen Dan Drummond and Steve Stombres.
“What a great morning in the City of Fairfax,” said Silverthorne at the outset. “Welcome to the official opening of Old Town Square.”
Adjacent to the historic Old Town Hall in the heart of downtown Fairfax, the $4 million park boasts modern, new features while honoring the City’s rich history. It includes the Kitty Pozer and Mary McCandlish Memorial gardens, plus the old-fashioned clock that the Rotary Club of Fairfax donated to the City 10 years ago.
Yet it also contains a cascading water feature, a splash pad with 15 water jets – each with a full spectrum of colors, a two-tiered plaza and a pergola to frame live entertainment performances and other events. And come August, it’ll offer free Wi-Fi, too.
As part of the Council that green-lighted this project, Drummond and Stombres got a sneak peek at it Friday night, along with Silverthorne and the current Council members. And, said Silverthorne, “The first kids in the park last night were the Drummond and Stombres kids.”
LONG AGO, this spot was the site of an old, two-story building that housed the C&P telephone company. Later on, Weight Watchers took it over. But eventually, the building was torn down and that area was turned it into a parking lot.
Time passed, and the City condemned the site and bought it. And 15 years ago, when Fairfax’s Open Space Committee looked at parcels all over the City for future parks, this was one of them.
“The residents, 2-1, said they wanted more open space, and we figured out a way to purchase this,” said Silverthorne. “Former Mayor Rob Lederer was a big help; we couldn’t have done this without his leadership.” He also praised Revenue Commissioner Page Johnson and Treasurer Tom Scibilia for their efforts.
Silverthorne further thanked the project managers, David Summers and Christina Alexander, for their hard work on Old Town Square and for ensuring that it was finished on time. Also instrumental, he said, were four key boards and commissions – the Commission on the Arts, Historic Fairfax City Inc., the Community Appearance Committee and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB).
“It’s excellent to see this park completed,” said PRAB Chairman Jon Stehle. “It really ties together the downtown.”
Brian Knapp, the former longtime PRAB chairman, also addressed the crowd, calling it a wonderful day “to be a lover of parks in the City of Fairfax. Our mayors have embraced the power of volunteers to help define the future of this city, and the mayors and Council members had the courage and fortitude to make this happen. It was the right decision to put this park here; congratulations to the City of Fairfax and its citizens.”
Silverthorne said how excited he is about “the beauty and natural setting of this park, right in the heart of our Historic District. Think about the weddings, concerts and festivals [it can host]. And I look forward to seeing you all at our many events here.”
Besides that, he continued, “It’ll be the City’s first, 24-hour park, and it’ll be well-lit and safe. And it’ll have free Wi-Fi so you can get a coffee and bring it over here with your laptop. We’re keeping Fairfax moving forward; thanks for being part of this great celebration today.”
THEN CAME the ribbon-cutting, followed by the activation of the splash pad’s water jets. Children of all ages had a ball running through the water, and so did State Sen. Petersen – who was one of the first to enjoy it.
Afterward, Sisson said, “We’re just so pleased to be able to have a place of beauty from what it was in the past. It’ll be a real community asset.”
Also there was former City Councilwoman Patrice Winter. In 2007, she and fellow PRAB members helped develop the vision for Old Town Square. She also noted how instrumental were Knapp, as well as former City Councilwoman Joan Cross, in this park’s planning stages and in helping it get through the Council.
“It’s wonderful to see the reality of it,” said Winter. “But it took persistence, patience and time – and following a passion. And I think it’ll be a catalyst for further development and redevelopment of the downtown area.”