Santa Switch At Mall Has Polarizing Effect

By Erica Garman
Sunday, December 21, 2008

Living in LoCo is Erica Garman's blog devoted to news about Loudoun County. You can find it at This column of highlights appears every Sunday.

Two new Clauses are at Dulles Town Center this year, replacing the mall's original and longtime Santa, Rip Mann.

Until this season, Mann had been the mall's only Santa. Before the mall opened in 1999, Mann played Santa at Tysons Galleria for several years.

I was saddened to learn that Mann would not be returning as Santa. (I haven't told the kids yet; too many questions will come of it.)

Matt Bressler of Sterling was also upset at the news. His children have been photographed with Mann every year since 1993. Bressler's kids are now 20 and 22, and as they grew, he said, they never turned down an opportunity to have their picture taken with Santa. Bressler and his wife, Deb, joined their children in the photos beginning in 2001.

Now that Mann is absent from the mall, the Bresslers have decided their annual Christmas photo tradition will come to an end. "We could not possibly have our picture taken with a pretend Santa now," Bressler said.

Mann told the Loudoun Times-Mirror in October that his multiyear contract with the mall had expired and that he had received notice it would not be renewed. Two Santas were needed, management told Mann, to meet growing customer demand.

Jackie Young, marketing director at Dulles Town Center, confirmed this in an e-mail to me Wednesday.

"We do have two Santas this year, working in shifts to accommodate the extended hours," she wrote. "This is in response to customer feedback from prior years -- people were frustrated by the long wait lines at Santa's Village. In order to alleviate the two- and three-hour waits, we extended the visiting hours, which resulted in the need for two Santa characters."

Mann had expressed an interest in reducing his Santa hours, Young added, and that request didn't fit with the mall's plans to create more Santa availability.

I was at Dulles Town Center on Wednesday to check out one of the new Santas. And I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.

White, authentic beard? Jolly demeanor? Deep belly-laugh? Check. Check. Check.

The younger set seemed not to have noticed the change.

Elijah Ramira, an infant, joined several other newborns in line having their first photo with Santa. None of them said a word. No one even cried.

Carl Hunt of Sterling was in line with his 3-year-old son, Jude. This was Jude's third year to sit on Santa's lap.

I whispered to Hunt that there was a new Santa in town. Would Jude be able to tell the difference? "He probably won't even notice," Hunt said. And he didn't.

New traditions have begun.

Santa will be at Dulles Town Center from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day through Tuesday. On Christmas Eve, Santa will have to leave at 4 p.m. to get ready for his annual flight around the world.

Many Irregularities Found In Anti-Hospital Petition

A fair number of petition signatures submitted to the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors by opponents of the proposed Broadlands Regional Medical Center appear to be inaccurate.

At a Nov. 20 joint public hearing before the Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission, Inova Loudoun Hospital employee and Broadlands resident Donna Fortier presented each supervisor with a stack of signatures -- tied with a red bow -- from people she said are opposed to the Ashburn hospital.

Fortier said she was submitting to the board "new petitions and letters that have been gathered since the beginning of this year. These are thousands of residents who are voicing their opposition to this location by signing their names to these documents. They are legitimate."

Several members of the Broadlands Residents for BRMC pro-hospital group reviewed the petitions and letters and said they found inaccuracies and errors. But they have a dog in the fight, so I decided to check out the petitions for myself at the county government center.

There's no doubt that what was submitted to each supervisor Nov. 20 includes thousands of signatures and hundreds of letters from people opposing BRMC. Most who wrote letters said a second hospital in Loudoun would be better located in the southern part of the county, along Route 50.

But in the more than 3,000 signatures and letters I perused were:

· More than 1,000 duplicate names and letters.

· Letters that had previously been submitted to the supervisors and planning commissioners.

· Twenty-one letters of opposition from the same woman.

· Signatures without a date or associated address.

· Children's signatures.

Supervisor Stevens Miller (D-Dulles) told me that the presentation with the red ribbons in front of a large audience "was used for a moment of theater, and I'm not here for theater. It slows down the process."

I spoke with Fortier and asked her about the apparent inaccuracies. She said that duplicates and some mistakes were inevitable in the submissions, because nine people were assisting her in pulling the information together.

Loudoun-Based Company Is Reaching for the Stars

It's nice to get some good news from a business, and a Loudoun-based one at that, after so much news about companies on the decline or even, gulp, closing.

David Thomson, founder and chief executive of Orbital Sciences Corp., was joined Monday by Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.), a handful of other Loudoun elected officials and Orbital employees and business partners to mark the opening of the company's seventh building in Dulles.

With the debut of the building and plans to construct three others by 2012, Orbital officials expect to add 600 jobs to the company's Loudoun headquarters over the next four years -- well-paying jobs for highly educated workers. Rocket scientists, in fact.

Orbital develops and manufactures rockets, space systems and satellites for private companies and government agencies. It has other offices in the United States but is headquartered in Loudoun.

Some pretty cool things are being planned and built by Orbital: a launch abort system to help keep space shuttle crew members safe in an emergency; Taurus II, a rocket that will carry supplies to the International Space Station; Glory, an Earth climate and atmospheric research satellite; and OCO (Orbiting Carbon Observatory), which will help scientists measure greenhouse gases in the Earth's atmosphere more accurately.

I asked Thompson after the ceremony why his company has decided to stay and grow here.

"Loudoun has been a great place to establish and expand a business," he said, citing the proximity to an international airport, an educated workforce, good schools and the availability of more affordable housing than in communities closer to the District. "Employees continue to say that this is a great place to raise a family," he said.

And Loudoun officials are glad Orbital is here.

At the ribbon-cutting, state Sen. Mark R. Herring (D) called Orbital's expansion an "important milestone for the commonwealth." Supervisor Andrea McGimsey (D-Potomac), who represents the district where Orbital is headquartered, called the company "a bright star." (No pun intended, she said.)

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