Landmarks in Play: New revenue, managers explored at iconic Purcellville sites
But some residents are concerned that the town is tinkering with a good situation.
As part of the town of Purcellville's efforts to increase revenue without increasing taxes, Town Council on Feb. 28 said they are in the process of issuing a Request for Information (RFI) to determine what opportunities may be available for the management of Bush Tabernacle and Fireman's Field.
The properties are currently operated by combined efforts from a nonprofit organization, Purcellville Teen Center Inc., which is led by Philip Message, and Loudoun County, which manages the fields. The town receives $46,200 in annual revenue from the Tabernacle and Fireman's Field combined.
However, the arrangement with the county is set to expire at the end of 2017.
Message's nonprofit is in a second five-year contract to manage the tabernacle, slated to expire on Dec. 31, 2020.
Message said he is disappointed with the decision to open the contract process.
“I assumed everything was fine. We have lots of positive feedback,” Message told the Times-Mirror.
Message's group coordinates and runs several high-profile events in the town, including the Loudoun Grown Expo, the Music and Arts Festival, a weekly teen center, movie nights and school events. He believes Bush Tabernacle and Fireman's Field should be considered separate entities.
“There is no reason to include the skating rink [at Bush Tabernacle] in this proposal. Fireman's Field and Bush Tabernacle should be considered separately. The town is not giving value to the services we provide and the work we do with the schools. How do you measure providing a safe place for kids on a Friday night?” he added.
In a written statement, Mayor Kwasi Fraser said the town did not make a decision to terminate the current lease, but rather to determine if there are better economic and recreational opportunities for the taxpayers, who are the owners of Fireman's Field and Bush Tabernacle.
“I commend and appreciate the work of Mr. Message's organization, the current tenants of the Tabernacle. In fact, all of my children have benefited from the Teen Center over the years, and the special events hosted there are of value to our community,” he said.
Fireman's Field occupies 15.84 acres between 20th Street and Nursery Avenue. It includes Bush Tabernacle, Haske Field, which is operated and maintained by the Upper Loudoun Little League, Fireman's Field, which has been home to baseball teams from Loudoun Valley High School, Babe Ruth, American Legion and currently the Purcellville Cannons. The stadium has also been used for decades by Upper Loudoun Youth Football League (ULYFL) in the fall when they convert the baseball outfield to a football field.
The property also hosts Dillion's Woods, which includes some of the largest remaining stands of oak trees in Loudoun County. The 9/11 First Responders Memorial is also on the property.
Bush Tabernacle is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1903, the original structure was an amphitheater style auditorium that hosted politicians, evangelists and performers. The Town of Purcellville purchased the facility in 2007, and in 2009 closed the building because of safety concerns. An extensive renovation was completed in 2010, and the building re-opened as a skating rink and teen center in October.
Under the town's current bond structure, there is a limit to the amount of private revenue that can be collected for tax-exempt bonds. Assistant Town Manager Danny Davis said they may look at other ways for restructuring with taxable bonds.
“There are other potential ways to look outside the box for how the services are provided to enhance those revenues,” Davis said. “We are very supportive of Phil. He is a great supporter of the town and he has brought great value.”
Council Member Ryan Cool said his job on Town Council is to lessen the burden on taxpayers, and they are looking at alternative ways to pay down the town's debt without raising taxes.
“On a local level, we have to look at all the options. I am in it not just to complain, but to act. We are working hard and making hard decisions,” Cool said.
Cool also emphasized, “Fireman's Field is not for sale.”
Some of the current options they are exploring include a) the town will manage the property; b) the town seeks out an outside firm to manage the property on behalf of the town; c) create a long term lease or public/private partnership.
Fraser said the town has invested $3.6 million in Fireman's Field between 2008 and 2010.
“It was taxpayer funded debt that renovated the facility, and not the contribution of the current tenant. These investments contributed to our current debt in the Parks and Recreation Fund and resulted in a prior Town Council increasing our real estate tax by 3.5 cents per $100 to address this debt,” Fraser said.
“Given that the citizens of Purcellville contribute almost $284,244 annually to service our Parks and Recreation debt, that we have an upcoming 2021 balloon payment of $1.6 million, and that we have a tenant paying $46,200 annually for a 8,500 square-foot facility which was renovated with $2 million of our taxpayers’ money, we absolutely owe it to our citizens to determine if better opportunities with both economical and recreational value to our community exist,” he said.
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