Local officials appear to be warmly receiving plans for a $55 million performing arts center on the Prince William campus of George Mason University in Manassas.
Proponents of the plan have been taking their colorful renderings and PowerPoint presentations from boardroom to boardroom, trying to build support for the four-floor, 1,100-seat auditorium. In July, they presented their plans to Manassas city officials. Tuesday, the Board of County Supervisors and Manassas Park City Council had their turn.
Prince William County Executive Craig S. Gerhart said the plan has been greeted warmly by elected leaders because they realize the county needs a cultural amenity that can help turn subdivisions into communities and create a sense of place. Also, the region's growing size and affluence mean that the center has a ready pool of ticket buyers and donors. Indeed, the slogan used in the slick promotional packet is "The new center of the new Northern Virginia."
Gerhart said officials are also heartened because the financial model is based on the one used to build the successful Freedom Aquatic & Fitness Center, also on George Mason's Prince William campus. Under the plan, the school, the City of Manassas and the county would split the cost.
Manassas city officials, while warm to the idea, have raised concerns about taking on such a large financial obligation.
The proposal said the center could be open by fall 2009, but the opening could be moved up if financing is in place earlier.
Gerhart said local leaders don't expect the center to turn a profit and are insistent that George Mason institute an endowment to pay for annual maintenance and upkeep. Localities would pay part of the interest on the bonds used to build the facility. Virginia has authorized George Mason to issue bonds to build the center.
Under the proposal given to county leaders this week, Prince William County would commit to 60 percent of the funds needed for design, construction and debt service. George Mason would pay 30 percent and the City of Manassas 10 percent. If Manassas Park wanted to participate, the percentages would be adjusted.
In the fall, officials will formally begin a $15 million fundraising drive. A new committee -- chaired by former Manassas mayor Marvin L. Gillum (R) and former Board of County Supervisors chairman Kathleen K. Seefeldt (D) -- will head the effort. The $15 million endowment will support the annual operating costs for the center, because ticket sales on their own aren't enough.
William Reeder, dean of George Mason's College of Visual and Performing Arts, told the Manassas City Council that the fundamental purpose of the center is to support community arts groups, including symphonies, ballet troupes and public and university student groups. The Manassas Dance Company and the Prince William Symphony Orchestra, neither of which has ever had a permanent home, are expected to make the new center their headquarters, said Sally Lay, executive director of Manassas's Center for the Arts. Doing so will help the groups build their audiences.
The performance hall would be built vertically, with a U-shape audience seating area. "The way it's designed, everybody will feel like they're in the front row," said Manassas City Manager Lawrence D. Hughes, comparing it to the famous Teatro alla Scala opera house in Milan, Italy. The hall's 21st-century efficiency and technology, including modern acoustics and electronics, would be offset by a 19th-century intimacy, officials said. "In terms of the finish, it will look beautiful but will not be made with the very, very expensive materials," said Lawrence D. Czarda, vice president of George Mason's Prince William campus.
In addition to the lobby and performance hall, the 99,000-square-foot center would include a two-story rehearsal and performance space, dressing rooms, two practice studios and scenery, wardrobe and paint shops.