The Manassas City Council voted Monday to give the city’s 100-year-old water tower another six-month reprieve.
The council voted unanimously to defer until June a decision on whether to demolish the water tower or try to preserve it. The deferral gives the tower’s supporters more time to raise money for an architectural survey that could pave the way for the city to receive state and federal grants to preserve the tower.
The council had voted at a special meeting in July to postpone the decision until this month, to give the tower’s supporters time to raise the $180,000 needed for maintenance and repairs. Although the fundraising effort stalled, tower supporters said they hope the architectural survey will result in the structure being added to the National Register of Historic Places, which could lead to substantial grant funding.
The Manassas Water and Sewer Department had asked the council to authorize demolition of the tower, which contributes little to the city’s water supply and is in need of costly repairs. It costs about $10,000 a year to operate the tower. Supporters of the tower — which stands 147 feet above Old Town and bears a “Welcome to Manassas“ greeting — consider it to be an essential part of the city’s character.
“The water tower is a very iconic structure,” said Jan Alten, who lives in Old Town Manassas and owns Opera House Gourmet. “Every place has to have something unique. [It] has been the shame of Northern Virginia that they have just wiped and obliterated everything that was, for the sake of something new.”
Alten, who serves on the citizens advisory committee on the water tower, said that the tower could be used to help market the city.
Stephen Hersch, a fifth-generation Manassas resident who also serves on the advisory committee, has been leading efforts to build awareness and raise money to preserve the structure, including creation of a Facebook page that has gained more than 600 followers. He said that the group has received a proposal from consultant Alexa McDowell to conduct the architectural survey for $7,500.
“She has done a lot of work on historic American water towers and has successfully prepared the nomination packages for placing towers on the National Register” of Historic Places, he said.
Hersch said that the group has received commitments for $2,500 and hopes to raise the remaining $5,000 over the next 30 to 60 days.
“There is no urgent need to scrap the tank,” council member Jonathan L. Way (R) said at the meeting Monday. “However, as much as we might like the tower, it’s not realistic to expect taxpayers to [pay] a $200,000 up-front bill for heavy maintenance and restoration.”
Way said he thought that the citizens committee had been making progress in searching for financing.
“It may be slower than we had hoped for, but it’s progress,” Way said. He proposed that the council defer action for an additional six months and then reevaluate the prospects for obtaining grant funding.
“We can’t expect full reviews and approvals then, but we’ll have a much better idea of the practicality and timing,” he said.
Mayor Harry J. “Hal” Parrish II (R) replied, “It does seem to me that another six months probably isn’t going to create a problem, but if we continue with six months after six months, then it does become a problem.”
Hersch said in an interview Thursday that he was pleased by the council’s decision.
“We didn’t want to launch a formal campaign to raise those funds until we had a formal commitment from the city to give us the breathing room,” he said.
“The folks in town here are very excited about the prospect of saving the tower, because it’s not just nostalgia,” Hersch said. “People have an appreciation for the role the tower has played in the development of this city.”
Barnes is a freelance writer.