Manassas Journal Messenger | Arts center gets go ahead

The Manassas City Council voted Monday night to allow construction on George Mason University’s Performing Arts Center to begin before fundraising targets had been met.

The vote came after citizens’ time turned into a referendum on the center, with many residents citing high taxes as a reason not to move ahead with the project.

The $56 million facility is a partnership between George Mason University, Prince William County and the City of Manassas, and would be located on the Prince William campus of the university.

The partnership agreement, reached in the fall of 2004, calls for the three partners to share the $36 million construction cost for the facility.

Manassas would fund $3.6 million, the county $21.6 million and the university $10.8 million.

The additional $20 million cost of the facility includes money for an endowment, operating costs and land.

The fundraising committee for the center came to the Manassas City Council on March 20, asking for a modification in the partnership agreement.

According to the agreement, construction wasn’t supposed to begin on the center until $7.5 million had been raised by a campaign committee, but with only $3.6 million raised and inflation on the rise, the committee urged haste.

Committee co-chairman and former Manassas Mayor Marvin Gillum asked the council to vote to modify the agreement so that construction plans could begin immediately.

“We can’t afford to wait any longer because of the increase in [construction] prices,” he said at the March 20 meeting.

At Monday’s council meeting, the vote on the agreement modification was supposed to come early in the evening, but council member Jackson Miller suggested it be postponed until after citizens’ time.

This allowed a flurry of residents to weigh in on the project.

Manassas resident Dan Arnold said his family might have to leave the city because of high assessments and he didn’t think that his tax dollars should fund the center.

“It just seems to me that there is a moral imperative here,” he said. “I need a tax cut on my housing assessment.”

Other residents like David Malone said that the council was betraying its Republican principles.

“I think you should be Republicans and act like Republicans and be conservative,” he said.

Some residents also spoke in support of the project.

Mike Vanderpool of Godwin Drive said the center was in line with the city’s progressive nature.

“The rest of the state realizes that Manassas is moving forward and to a certain extent is envious of that,” he said.

After the citizens’ time portion of the meeting, the members of the council voiced their opinions on the project.

All council members approved the agreement modification except Hal Parrish, who was absent, and Miller, who said the council’s priorities were misplaced.

“Our responsibilities are not to George Mason University as a council,” he said. “Our responsibilities are to residents of this city.”

The county is scheduled to vote on the agreement modification in April.

If they approve the modification, then groundbreaking on the center could begin in the spring or summer of 2007.

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