Construction of a proposed $5.9 million cultural and heritage center for Fairfax County, although supported overwhelmingly at a public hearing recently, appears doubtful unless county residents are willing to fund the center through a tax increase or by private donations.
The proposed center would provide a facility for the county's scattered historical, visual and performing arts groups, including the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, light opera societies, ballet and dance organizations and a wide variety of little theater groups.
The plan for the center was contained in a $35,000 study ordered by the Fairfax County Park Authority.
Joseph Downs, director of the Park Authority, which conducted the public hearing, said there were several ways in which the heritage center could be funded, including county funding, a bond referendum or a countywide fund-raising effort.
Warren Cikins, Fairfax County Supervisor for the Mt. Vernon area, warned that county funding was unlikely because "right now we're in a bad period and money is tight." He said that a bond sale to fund construction also may not be possible because of pending requests for general obligation bond financing.
"There are several areas already where bond referendums are in the offing," Cikins explained. "While I think the idea has a great deal of merit, that's a lot of money at a time of difficult budgetary constraints. I think the majority of citizens are not aware that we had to raise taxes last year 50 cents a hundred (dollars of assessed property value) . . . and cut the budget $20 million. We're still straining to stay even."
During the public hearing, representatives of various cultural and performing arts groups voiced support for a central facility to house their activities. Only two of 24 speakers were critical of the central facility idea. The suggested location is Wakefield Park, Annandale.
"We have no center to bring together our beautiful history and culture and you have to go all over the 410 square miles of Fairfax County to see what's here," explained Doris Dakin, chairperson of the Fairfax Legacy Action Group, which recently has spearheaded the drive for the center.
"We have no adequate facilities for performing arts. Right now we use church basements, school auditoriums, small performing centers. When performing groups try to schedule themselves in our overcrowded high schools, they often are denied the use of the facilities because the schools are overloaded with their own activities. Or there are conflicts with other community groups."
Fairfax County residents will vote on a proposal to sell $18.7 million in general obligation bonds to finance construction of a new country courthouse. County officials say that bond sale will not result in a tax increase for the county. The Park Authority is expected to request shortly a $39 million bond referendum on June 14, to finance a five-year capital improvements program. Whether that referendum, if approved by the Board of Supervisers and the voters, would result in a tax increase has not been determined.
Downs said the Park Authority may consider including the heritage center in the park bond referendum request, or "do a single rederendum on just this issue." He said a major corporation also might be persuaded to fund the center "as a gift to the citizens of Fairfax County. At this time, we know of no such interest on the part of a corporation."
A countywide fundraising program "would be the most difficult to accomplish," Downs added.
"There's never going to be a cheaper time to build it," she added. "It's just going to get more expensive. I think when the building gets built, we'll wonder what we ever did without it."
A feasability study conducted by Fothergill Beekhuis Associated of Washington identified 77 active cultural groups in Fairfax County, "53 engaged in the performing arts," and estimated that 422 performances were staged in the county during ghe 1975-76 season.
"It is estimated that these groups represented a membership of 27,000 and that their programs during the 1975-76 season reached a combined total audience in excess of 279,000," the study reported.
A conceptual design for the proposed center prepared by Arthur Cotton Moore Associates of Washington includes a large theater-concert hall of 1,800 seats with a moveable accoustic ceiling to close off the 600-seat balcony for smaller audiences, a 350-seat "Little Theater," galleries for historical and art exhibitions, backstage facilities rehearsals rooms and administrative offices.
Consultant Jeanne Beekhuis said Wakefield Park was proposed as the best site for the center because of the aesthetics, easy access from the Beltway and major arterials, and its location "right in the center of the county."
One of the two speakers to criticize the proposal at the public hearing was Bruce Bolstad, a member of the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations, representing 41 citizens groups in southern Fairfax county. Bolstad complained that very few people in the Mt. Vernon area are aware of the proposal and feasability study and said the council favors a smaller central facility with additional cultural facilities located in the different regions of the county.
"It's too grandiose," Bolstad explained. "We just don't need an attraction 15 miles away that thinks it can compete with things going on across the river. People who live in Mt. Vernon and Lee, they're closer to the Kennedy Center."
"We hope they will consider a regional approach," he added. "I think that Reston and Herndon and all the other fringe areas are going to feel the same way."
Fairfax County Park Authority chairman Fred Crabtree admitted that very few county residents are aware of the proposed center at this point and said he public center at this point and said the public hearing was televised on WNVT-TV in hopes of increasing that awareness. But the day after the hearing, Crabtree said the Park Authority office received no response, "negative or positive."
The Park Authority is inviting comments and testimony, he continued, and then Park Authority members will make their recommendations concerning the center and funding to the Board of Supervisers.