RCC and the county are proposing an expensive and flawed arts center to be paid for by Restonians.
Tuesday evening, October 4, 2022, at 7:30 PM, Supervisor Alcorn is holding a so-called one-hour town hall meeting at the South Lakes High School auditorium for Restonians to hear about the Visual and Performing Arts Center (VPAC) proposed by the Reston Community Center (RCC). It remains unclear how much they will be able ask about it or challenge its legitimacy given the limited time and a county presentation, but this is another RCC and county boondoggle of the highest order and you should know about it.
Some of you—especially those active in the arts—may have attended either in person or virtually the several meetings last spring led by a consultant seeking input on what a Reston VPAC should be able to do. Videos of the meetings and the presentation are available at a county webpage for the proposed arts center.
Figure 1 Conceptual layout of Reston arts center.
The bottom line from this effort, published in the consultant’s final report was that a 65,000 GSF arts center could accommodate a 500-seat performing arts theater and a small visual arts gallery (7,400 GSF), plus ancillary spaces for both, on the 27,000 square lot proffered to the county by Boston Properties.
This proposed VPAC is underwhelming in meeting either its stated goals or Reston (and broader) arts needs. RCC’s goal in tasking the consultant was to address:
· The absence of a medium capacity performance venue (500-1,000 seats) with a large-footprint stage. The major types of performances would be music, dance and theatre (musical or large casts).
· Also missing are small intimate venues designed for spoken word, comedy, jazz and other small groups outside of restaurant and bar venues.
· There are fewer amenities for visual arts in the region.
The consultant could only fit a 500-seat theater in the space provided by the proffer and meet some of the visual arts objectives. At just over 4,000 NSF, the proposed stage generally meets the call for a large footprint stage. Merchant Hall at GMU’s Hylton Performing Arts Center has a comparable stage, but it also has over 1,100 seats.
In contrast, the proposed 7,400 GSF visual arts program area is slightly more than half again as large as the RCC addition to RCC Lake Anne in the last year, 4,500 square feet, according to RCC Director Leila Gordon. That space will be used for: “art studio classes that are twice as large; a 3D media room; two additional pottery wheels (one of which is ADA-accessible), bringing the wheel spaces to 10; two rooms outfitted with spring floors and mirrors that will be used as dedicated fitness studios; a wellness studio; and a new heating and air conditioning system.” Regrettably, this doesn’t meet Reston’s visual arts needs by a long shot and is basically a throw away space.
The consultant’s report also goes on to provide a rough order of magnitude (ROM) cost for the project: Its cost estimate is $58 million this year if the construction begins this year, including contingency costs, mushrooming to $81.4 million in 2030 as construction costs grow. That’s a nine percent per annum inflation in costs, which is actually less than the recent record of performing arts center cost growth of more than 12 percent per annum.
The key question then becomes: Who pays for the construction and operation of a Reston VPAC? The county and RCC have been impossibly vague on the matter, in part to get community buy in for the project before its costs are known.
RCC has pursued the VPAC for years and has the Reston Special Tax District #5 (STD#5) to pay for it. The county has its range of taxes to cover the needed construction and operating costs. From what we can discern, the county is likely to propose an industrial bond to cover the cost of construction. Two key points:
· An industrial bond, issued by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA), does not require a referendum, merely a Board of Supervisors approval.
· The bond does, however, require an identified, reliable income stream to cover the bond payments. The only available such stream is Reston’s STD#5.
RCC claimed for months—indeed it’s in the consultant’s report—that the VPAC would not result in any Reston STD#5 tax increases. That is simply not true and, indeed, the county has softened RCC’s comments on this. The bottom line is that you cannot add nearly 40% to RCC’s expenditures and not increase STD#5 taxes on Reston residents and businesses. In fact, if the project began in 2030, the tax rate would need to increase 72% to $.081 per $100 valuation from its already excessive $.047 per $100 valuation in 2030. That rate would slowly decline as real estate values increased, but would still be $.069 per $100 valuation in 2050.