Now that the dust has settled from the most recent skirmish over the fate of Dodona Manor, Gen. George C. Marshall's 19th century mansion, all parties seem to agree on one thing: lean times are making the house's preservation a particularly sensitive topic.
Two weeks ago, the Leesburg Town Council approved a contract extension for the purchase of the downtown house, giving the private George C. Marshall Home Preservation Fund until the end of March 1991 to come up with about $1.2 million in final payments toward the $3.4 million purchase price. But the council vote was 4 to 3, and some members of the council and the public are questioning how far the town government should go in supporting the project financially.
Fund President B. Powell Harrison remains characteristically jubilant about the prospects of buying the aging house and its nearly four wooded acres and turning the property into a major tourist attraction. The group has the long-term goal of restoring the mansion, building a parking lot and establishing a conference center on the property.
But the town's financial picture has darkened somewhat, and the Loudoun County government and Virginia face even bleaker budget situations, 22 months months after the Town Council invested $1 million toward the home's purchase and lent the preservation fund an additional $409,000 from the town utility fund.
"It all boils down to economics," said Leesburg Vice Mayor James Clem, who voted against the town financing in 1988 and was joined this month by two new council members in voting against extending the time that the preservation fund can have to buy Dodona Manor.
Harrison has called the recent town dispute "partisan politics," saying that "an element of the Republican Party" is trying to label Democratic-backed council members spendthrifts. The Dodona Manor fund, said Harrison, "got caught in the middle."
However, neither Clem nor Mayor Robert Sevila, a key backer of the purchase, views it that way. "I don't see it as a partisan issue, and I hope it doesn't become that," Sevila said.
The mayor said that "it's a question of the extent" to which the town should be involved in the project financially, not whether the house should be saved. While he views the Leesburg commitment as a good investment for the town government, some others are wary.
Clem says the town utility fund had been drawn down to a level that may delay needed projects. As for the $1 million commitment, the vice mayor commented, "That's a big chunk of money. We need it here in the town. I wouldn't feel so bad if it was spread out" over several years.
In addition to the town financing, Harrison said, his group has received $490,000 from the state and more than $300,000 in gifts from local citizens and companies as well as foreign concerns.
Underscoring the downturn in the local construction industry, Harrison said a drive to raise money from Loudoun developers netted only about $5,000.
The preservation fund must pay Marshall's heirs $215,000 by the end of August and about $1 million next March. After that, Harrison says, the group intends to raise money to repay the town utility fund loan and to begin the restoration and conference center work.
Clem said he and others in Leesburg are concerned that the town might have to make up any shortfall in funds needed for those later projects. "We just can't pick up the burden," he said.
Meanwhile, state Sen. Charles L. Waddell (D-Loudoun) has asked the state Department of Conservation and Historic Resources to approve a $100,000 grant toward the mansion's purchase.
Waddell said this week he believes that the 1989 General Assembly's appropriation of $490,000 wouldn't be affected by any new state budget cuts, but he said there could be "a real danger" to the Dodona Manor purchase plan if the new state grant or an equivalent gift does not materialize soon.
Harrison said he expects that the fund will receive one or two $600,000 gifts late this year and that he hopes to close the deal ahead of the March deadline.