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Cost of proposed Reston arts center dominates town hall as January decision nears

The arts center could be located on Block J in Reston Town Center (via Fairfax County)

(Updated at 6:55 p.m.) Concerns of about the financing and feasibility of a proposed 60,000-square-foot performing arts center in Reston dominated a town hall last night (Tuesday).

Boston Properties has proffered to provide a site for the arts center on Block J of the next phase of its Reston Town Center development.

A feasibility report by the architectural firm Grimm + Parker estimated the cost would be roughly $58 million in current dollars and $81 million, accounting for inflation, through 2030.

“We’re talking about a pretty significant project from at least a capital cost standpoint,” said Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn.

Fairfax County has to choose between two options for the site, as pitched by Boston Properties: an arts center or an athletic field.

The athletic field would include one or more full-size fields built by Boston Properties on top of a parking garage on the property off Sunset Hills Road. If that doesn’t work out, the developer would provide roughly $6.5 to $7 million for park facilities in the Reston area.

For the arts center option, Boston Properties would provide property to the county on Block J and drop the athletic and park improvements described above.

A Fairfax County Board of Supervisors decision on the feasibility of the project is anticipated by the end of January. The deadline was pushed back by several months to allow more time for public input and engagement.

Financing remains an issue, some residents noted at the town hall, which is the second on the proposal this year.

Hunter Mill District Planning Commissioner John Carter said that although the estimated costs are “daunting,” he expects overall costs to go down as the scope of the project narrows.

“This is a great location right next to Metro,” Carter said. “We certainly would like to hold onto that, I would think.”

The financial cost of the project will not fall on residents who live in Special Tax District #5 — a possibility that was floated in earlier months. The county will likely seek general obligation bonds for the project, a method typically used to fund libraries, schools and other public projects, but no related bond referendum is currently under consideration for voters.

Reston Community Center Executive Director Leila Gordon pledged that residents in the tax district would not see increased taxes as a result of this project. A potential operator for the arts center hasn’t been identified yet, but its board of governors has committed to keeping the tax rate flat.

(Correction: This article previously said that RCC won’t operate the arts center, but the community center clarified that no decisions about the operator have been made yet.)

“We need similar space to accommodate existing demand and will be seeking solutions to that problem using our available resources in one way or another,” Gordon told FFXnow. “So while we don’t know who might operate this venue, the idea of RCC doing so is not out of the question.”

Other options for an arts center could include a venue on county-owned land west of the Herndon Metro station or similar property in Reston Town Center North, according to the county.

Tammi Petrine, a Reston resident and community advocate on the Reston Planning and Zoning Committee, noted that residents of the tax district already pay a “huge tax” that can be “way too much of a burden” for residents.

While much of the discussion was dominated by funding options and overall cost, ArtsFairfax board chair Scott Cryer encouraged residents to step back and examine the overall economic and cultural benefit of the project.

“There’s a real positive economic impact that will be provided by a facility like this,” Cryer said.

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