Reston Spring

Reston Spring
Reston Spring

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Is a Performance Venue the Best Way to Spend $92 Million in added Reston Taxes?

 (This is a slightly edited version of a commentary published in Reston Patch this week.  The edits include the addition of a couple of examples of cost per square foot for performing arts centers as shown in blue ink below.) 

In recent weeks, the Reston Community Center (RCC), has called on Restonians to finance the building and operation of a Reston visual and performing arts center (RVPAC) on land proffered by Boston Properties.  It has set up “public meetings” in mid-February and beyond to achieve that end.

The RCC effort is not being driven by any need for such a center nor in consideration of the many others legitimate needs of this community.  RCC has its own small performance venue, the high school has a larger auditorium, and outdoor performances are routine at the Town Center.  Within in 10 miles of Reston, major performance and visual venues exist Wolf Trap and its Barns and the new Capital One Center at Tysons.  A website of Washington area visual and performing arts centers shows that Hunter Mill District already has 19% of all the performance venues in Fairfax County, the most of any county magisterial district.  Neighboring Dranesville and Sully districts add another 19% share to county venues.  For a real night out adventure, Washington, DC, has myriad performance and arts centers.  The point is the visual and performing arts are readily available to Restonians now. 

A 2019 “scientific” survey conducted by the University of Virginia on RCC’s behalf on Restonians’ view of such a RVPAC showed that only 38% of the respondents were supportive or very supportive of an RVPAC financed only by Restonians, not close to a majority of the sample.  Moreover, that is 38% of the self-selecting 1,906 respondents out of 5,500 queried in the survey.  In short, three percent of Reston’s 63,226 population were allowed to speak for our community in a survey designed to generate positive responses.  That is hardly sufficient justification for pursuing a multi-million dollar initiative through added taxes on Restonians.

Nonetheless, RCC is proceeding with its public meetings to determine what Restonians want in their RVPAC—not whether they want one nor how much they are willing to pay.   Trying to achieve dreams without first considering financial limitations is a recipe for fiscal disaster.   In fact, if Restonians are to pay for the construction and operation of a VPAC, RCC needs to first determine how much Restonians can and will pay for that “want.”

What is on the table is building a 60,000 square foot visual and performing arts center on land proffered by Boston Properties in Reston Town Center per Reston Connection.   An extensive Google search of performance arts center design and build costs shows an extreme range of costs per square foot, current costs ranging from about $300/sf to $2,000/sf in one case.   The range is largely attributable to the elegance of the venue and the extent of its ancillary facilities.  In fact, at this point, expecting design, build, and equip current costs of $1,000/sf is a reasonable preliminary estimate for planning a well-fitted, but not ostentatious, VPAC.  That means a Reston VPAC would cost an estimated $60 million to build—and, of course, more to operate. 

A couple of examples:

·        Tysons’ new Capital One Center cost about $960/sf ($120 million total) for its two venues—a 1,600 person principal theater and a 225-person “box theater”--in a 125,000 sf facility.  It also has an amphitheater on its campus.

·        A newly built PAC on a college campus in Chula Vista, CA cost $66 million to design, build, and equip.  It includes a 540-seat performance theater and a 151-seat “box theater” plus other small instructional and support spaces.  The building has 48,576 square feet gross floor area, meaning it cost $1,076/gsf.  It was funded by two general obligation bonds through two regional referendums, not by the college nor Chula Vista alone. 

A reasonable planning assumption, one used by the county, for an RVPAC would be to assume the interest rate of three percent on a AAA general obligation bond.  At a 3%/year interest, Restonians would have to pay an additional $3.1 million annually to the Reston special tax district ($91.8 million over 30 years), increasing current RCC annual tax revenue needs by one-third.   

Is paying $91.8 million over 30 years for a visual and performance venue the best use of Restonians’ STD#5 community or even county property tax funds?  I certainly don’t believe so.  I suspect that is also the reason that Supervisor Alcorn hasn’t taken this idea on as a county initiative.  In fact, at least three other important areas in Reston need that money: d

·        New Reston schools to accommodate the 20,000 new students planned to live in Reston in the next 30 years according to the Reston Master Plan and FCPS student yield models. 

·       New parks in and immediately around the increasingly intensely developed Reston transit station areas to give some legitimacy to the county’s urban park guidelines.  There are virtually no parks for the 90,000 people planned to live there, just wall-to-wall concrete.  Boston Properties’ proffer specifically identifies a park as an option to a VPAC.

·     A new Reston Regional Library to replace the dilapidated, outdated and inadequate one at Town Center North.

I encourage all Reston residents to attend and participate in RCC’s upcoming public meeting at 6:30PM on February 14th at RCC.  Let them know what you think should be Reston taxpayers’ investment priorities.  After all, RCC is trying to decide how to spend some $92 million of your money, not theirs.