For now, the image of a thriving downtown in Manassas Park--complete with unusual retail shops and restaurants--is just in the minds of city officials. But they hope that after a three-day workshop this week, residents and potential business owners will share their excitement and vision.

Coined as the Manassas Park Charrette, the public workshop, beginning tomorrow and running through Saturday, will be used as a forum to outline the city's goals and objectives for a main street-downtown area on Manassas Drive. The proposed area would run from Bloom's Crossing to Mathis Drive, or between the two residential areas.

"The purpose of this is really to develop a development plan or marketing plan for the Manassas Drive corridor where the majority of the commercial development will occur for the city," City Manager David Reynal said.

By including residents, he said, the city is illustrating its intent to begin "with a clean slate and not prejudging what will come out of it."

Although the city, with its population hovering near 9,600, has had trouble attracting retailers, it is hoping to capitalize on the area near the Virginia Rail Express commuter lot, said Troy Taylor, the city's planning and zoning administrator.

With the 81 acres of vacant land near the station, and with VRE's plans to expand the parking lot by 300 spaces, "it will be bringing more people into the city and will make the business community willing and able to cater to the needs of those people," Taylor said.

New retailers "will give the commuters an opportunity to shop before going home from their commute," Taylor said. "We are trying to come up with a more viable business community."

The workshop will cost about $12,000 and is funded through donations from public and private entities, including $5,000 from the Virginia Department of Transportation and $2,500 from the city.

"We're just essentially trying to build a downtown area that we currently don't have," Taylor said. "What we've ended up with is a corridor with vacant land."

Mark Gibb, executive director of the Northern Virginia Planning District Commission, said he has worked with other cities to aid them in developing a downtown area, including Reston and Occoquan.

"This is not meant to be a tool to bring businesses in," he said. "It's meant to be a planning tool for the City Council to make decisions and to help the city assess where it is and what it needs to be doing."

Gibb said the focus of the workshop should be to stress the economic viability of the city, but "that can't happen until everyone understands the transportation issues and other issues in the city."

The city will experience its residential build-out--when it runs out of room for growth--in about two years, though several acres of commercial property currently are vacant.

"We'd certainly like to come up with a center point for the city," Taylor said. "We don't have that on Route 28 and just really don't have a downtown. We want one."

Anyone interested in the three-day workshop should contact Manassas Park officials as 335-8800. Residents and current business owners, as well as potential business owners, are encouraged to attend.