With just six square miles and 21,500 people, Fairfax City does not seem a likely tourist destination. But city leaders are launching a campaign to get their historic spot at the crossroads of five highways on the map.
The idea is to market Fairfax City not only for what it has but also for where it is -- smack in the middle of Northern Virginia, within easy driving distance of Manassas National Battlefield Park, George Washington's home at Mount Vernon, the fishing town of Occoquan and the soon-to-open Air and Space Museum annex near Dulles International Airport. District-bound tourists can ride Metro into town from the Vienna station.
"Although the city doesn't have the world's largest attractions, it's safe, it's affordable, and it provides an intimate Virginia experience in a small town," said Sharon Cavileer, a local marketing consultant helping with the promotion effort.
"Here we are right in the middle of everything and gaining nothing from it," Cavileer said. The city is intersected by Interstate 66 and Routes 236, 123, 50 and 29.
City leaders have named the campaign Destination Fairfax. Their first goal is to entice travel writers from outside the region to produce magazines stories about the city. Other efforts will include a new brochure, also with wide distribution outside Northern Virginia, Cavileer said.
The city prides itself on its well-attended annual festivals, its proximity to George Mason University and its numerous historic homes, including the Ratcliffe-Allison House on Main Street, the 12-acre Blenheim Estate on Old Lee Highway and the Old Town Hall. During the Civil War, Union Gen. Edwin Stoughton was captured by Confederate Capt. John S. Mosby about two blocks west of the old Fairfax Courthouse. A monument to the raid stands in front of the Truro Parish House, where Stoughton was spending the night. Local officials said they hope to put the city on the route for motor-coach tours of the area's more well-known Civil War sites.
Fairfax also has 578 hotel rooms and a number of high-end restaurants.
The city has boosted its tourism effort several times in recent years, but officials now hope a new partnership with local businesses will put it more squarely on the map. A dozen hoteliers, restaurateurs and other businesses pledged $30,000 last fall, Cavileer said. And Council member Joan W. Cross said she hopes the City Council will add up to $80,000 when it approves next year's budget in a few weeks.
"It's one thing for city government to initiate this, and another for local businesses to do it," Cross said. She envisions hiring a marketing consultant to take over the tourism campaign.
The effort comes as the city considers a range of tax increases on restaurant meals, cigarettes, CUE bus fares and cellular telephone bills, mostly to offset its dependence on property taxes to fund programs. The city's property tax rate also would increase by 2 cents, to 98 cents per $100 of assessed value, largely to bring in money to purchase open space.
The city now spends about $30,000 a year on tourism through its economic development office, which places advertisements in local newspapers and puts out a brochure highlighting local attractions. A visitors center and museum on Main Street gets about 6,000 visits a year, Economic Development Director Earl Berner said. A renovation at the site will be completed April 1, he said.