Reston Community Center finds support for new arts facility, but funding remains a question

A majority of Reston residents would support having a larger performing arts venue in the area, a survey commissioned by Reston Community Center suggests.

RCC has been mulling the possibility of bringing a new performing arts venue to Reston since at least the summer of 2019, when it partnered with the Center for Survey Research at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service to conduct the community survey, which also measured public opinion of the organization’s facilities, programming, and priorities.

Center for Survey Research Director Dr. Kara Fitzgibbon presented the community survey results to the RCC Board of Governors on July 26. The board also reviewed the findings of a strategic plan survey that RCC sent out earlier this summer to see if people’s feelings had changed in the intervening two years.

According to the UVA presentation, 68% of the 1,906 people who responded to the 2019 survey are somewhat to very interested in Reston having a larger performing arts venue, with the largest percentage (29%) saying that they are very interested.

An additional 12% of respondents said they would be slightly interested, while 11% said they wouldn’t be at all interested, and 9% felt that RCC’s existing facilities, such as the CenterStage theater, are sufficient.

Reston Community Center gauged support for a new performing arts venue in its 2019 community survey (via RCC)

“The levels of general support indicate that the opportunity is one that RCC should explore and help the community realize in one way or another,” RCC Executive Director Leila Gordon said by email. “What happens next will be determined through study, engagement and development of a plan to realize what the community wants.”

Gordon says RCC’s interest in having a larger performing arts venue “is longstanding,” spurred in part by a proffer from Boston Properties for up to 65,000 square feet of development in its Reston Gateway neighborhood near the still-closed Reston Town Center Metro station.

Gordon told Reston Now in June 2019 that if a facility comes to fruition, RCC would advocate for it to have a stage spacious enough to accommodate dance, orchestral, and theatrical shows with large casts, and it would primarily serve community nonprofits and public school arts programs.

She clarified by email yesterday (Tuesday) that Boston Properties has offered to include that amount of space in “Block J” of its mixed-use development, but it hasn’t committed to making that an arts center.

A Fairfax County spokesperson confirmed that the proffer is still on the table and that the county has until July 2022 to decide whether to accept it.

RCC’s community survey indicates that the level of support for a new performing arts center would vary depending on whether it is built by a developer or by the community center, which would require voter approval for a bond referendum to fund the project.

The percentage of “very supportive” respondents goes from 37% if the facility is built by a developer to just 14% if RCC has to finance it. 32% of respondents said they wouldn’t be at all supportive of RCC issuing a bond to fund the project.

“The RCC board has long maintained that such a venue requires multiple funding partners to realize,” Gordon said. “We will continue to explore the opportunity with the community and see where it leads.”

The Center for Survey Research distributed the questionnaire to a sample of 5,500 Reston households. A version of the survey that anyone who lives or works in Reston could answer was also made available online and in paper form from Aug. 5 to Sept. 16, 2019, according to the presentation.

This year’s strategic plan survey obtained 267 responses. Respondents named facilities upkeep and modernization as their top priority, though some said RCC’s programs are “too niche” or duplicative of Reston Association offerings.

Gordon says she didn’t register any significant changes from 2019 to this year, but the number of people who cited time constraints — either from their own busy schedule or RCC’s schedule — as a barrier to participation in the 2019 survey stood out.

Reston Community Center’s 2019 community survey found time is a barrier to participation (via RCC)

“To the extent we can, RCC works collaboratively with Reston’s nonprofit and civic infrastructure to get Restonians the most ‘bang for the buck’ from their community investments,” Gordon wrote. “Ultimately, the 2019 Community Survey helps all of us better understand what people are seeking in their spare time (what precious little of it they have!) and how we can fulfill their expectations.”

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