A town center with unique shops, a pizza parlor, post office and a dry cleaner--or a pedestrian area to lend a communal feeling to their city--were two of several development options discussed during the first two days of a three-day workshop on creating a downtown for Manassas Park.
Coined the Manassas Park Charrette, the public event was designed as a forum to detail the city's goal for a main street-downtown area on Manassas Drive that would extend from Blooms Crossing to Mathis Avenue, linking the two residential areas on the east and west sides of town.
So far, the workshop has initiated a dialogue among city officials, residents and developers, although at times it elevated to shouts as each group voiced different opinions about what to do with Manassas Park's undeveloped land.
"So far, it's been impressive, the way this small town has really grown from a residential area to what it is now," said Robert Mortensen, a workshop facilitator and developer with Falls Church-based Mortensen Associates.
About 30 people--a mix of residents, business owners and officials--gathered in the council chambers of City Hall yesterday to talk about different areas along Manassas Drive that they want developed.
Linda Lalande, a Manassas Park resident for almost four years, said she would like to see the land near City Hall and the new $14.2 million high school developed into retail space.
"We really just want a place where people can go, to have a pedestrian area," Lalande said.
Dorothy Bello, a 20-year city resident, agreed. "We just want a common area," Bello said. "Here, we're going to throw out ideas and [city officials are] going to make conclusions based on what most people are interested in."
By including residents in the process, Manassas Park is illustrating its intent to begin "with a clean slate," City Manager David W. Reynal said.
"There's been a great turnout so far, and we expect more on Saturday," he said.
Other proposals include developing land near the Virginia Railway Express, redeveloping portions of the Route 28 corridor, which already has several restaurants and retail shops, and building new roads and widening others.
"Everything happens because you make it happen, and that's the challenge facing Manassas Park," said David Wilcox, senior vice president of Los Angeles-based Economics Research Associates and a workshop facilitator who has conducted six such charrettes in recent years. "Here, you need an area where people can gather."
Wilcox suggested that the city utilize the four soccer fields in Signal Hill Park. He said the revenue potential would help elevate the city to where it wants to be.
"That's an enormous marketing facility for the town," he said. "It's an enormous asset and can really improve the way of life here."
Attendees spoke of a downtown area that would include retail shops, restaurants and other such small, but easily accessible, businesses. The city, with its population hovering near 9,600, has had trouble attracting retailers in the past and is hoping a downtown would change that.
With 81 acres of vacant land near the VRE station, and with VRE's plans to expand the parking there lot by 300 spaces, city officials and residents said they hope to capitalize on that area, too.
Today will be the last day of the charrette. Residents and business owners, as well as potential business owners, are encouraged to attend.
Anyone interested in attending the daylong workshop, which starts at 9 a.m., should contact Manassas Park officials at 703-335-8800.