Arlington Sun Gazette
Candidates Spar on Need for Cultural Center
by SCOTT McCAFFREY, Staff Writer
(Created: Tuesday, October 17, 2006 9:25 AM EDT)
County Board Chairman Chris Zimmerman on Oct. 16 reiterated his support for a countywide cultural arts center, a position his two board challengers immediately derided as pandering to the audience and fiscally irresponsible.
“All I hear is promises, promises, promises,” Republican County Board candidate Mike McMenamin said after listening to Zimmerman’s remarks. “There have been a lot of promises. This has got to stop. We need to be realistic with the community.”
Zimmerman, the Democratic incumbent, joined McMenamin and Green Party candidate Josh Ruebner in a forum sponsored by the Arlington Citizens for the Arts. It was held at Gunston Arts Center.
A cultural arts center has long been in the planning stage, but has never gone beyond that phase, due largely to the county government’s inability to find a private developer to partner with.
Arts advocates want to see the facility constructed in the Courthouse area, most likely on the large surface parking lot between the county government headquarters and the courts building.
Although he has not proposed to fund such a center during his decade on the County Board, Zimmerman told arts advocates he was a fan of the concept.
“It is a worthwhile investment,” he said. “I still think it’s a good concept.”
But McMenamin and Ruebner said that county government needed to be realistic in its spending, now that the real estate market has slowed and the growth in tax revenues was drying up.
“I don’t think it would be a top priority for my tenure on the County Board,” said Ruebner. “We have tough choices – human needs are going unmet in Arlington.”
“It would not be one of my top priorities – I am a fiscal realist,” said McMenamin. “The county has not lived within its [fiscal] parameters.”
McMenamin, president of the Maywood Civic Association, said he might consider such a project, if a developer could be found to build it at little or no cost to the taxpayers.
Ruebner told the arts advocates that, with $5 million proposed social-service cuts on the table, it was time for the county government to weed out extraneous spending. He said he would cut spending on the proposed North Tract recreation facility, which is expected to cost $100 million or more.
“I don’t think that our top priority should be building . . . a yuppie sports complex,” Ruebner said.
McMenamin and Ruebner both criticized the county government for eliminating proposed funding for public-art projects. Advocates for the programs had sought inclusion of $300,000 in the county manager’s capital-improvement program, but came away empty-handed.
“In a billion-dollar budget, if we can’t find $300,000 to fund the arts, we’ve got to take a look at where our priorities lie,” McMenamin said.
If the proposed cultural center didn’t win unanimous support of the candidates, arts advocates appeared undaunted.
Jerry Mayer, a member of the Arlington Citizens for the Arts board and moderator of the evening’s forum, said such a facility would “make Arlington more of an arts destination, a vibrant center.”
“Local arts groups are dying for space,” he said.
Wendy Rahm, who chairs the county government’s arts commission, said she remained upbeat about the possibility of building a cultural center.
“I certainly hope so,” Rahm said of the potential for a facility, acknowledging that a public-private partnership “is probably going to have to be in the cards” in order to get such a center built.
For now, at least, a cultural center probably will have to wait for a final answer on the government’s proposed conference center, which remains tied up in the planning process.
Government officials initially wanted to build a high-tech conference center in Pentagon City, but now are eyeing Crystal City for the facility.