Artisphere, Two Community Centers Could Be on Next Year’s Chopping Block

by ARLnow.com February 22, 2013 at 12:20 pm 3,319 107 Comments

The Fenwick Center (photo via Google Maps)Arlington County Manager Barbara Donnellan says she and her staff will be evaluating several county facilities for possible changes or closure next year.

Among those expected to be evaluated are the money-losing Artisphere, two community centers and two Department of Human Services facilities.

In her budget message to the County Board, Donnellan said “potential facilities to be evaluated” include the Madison and Woodmont community centers in north Arlington, the Edison Complex near Virginia Hospital Center, and the Fenwick Center on S. Walter Reed Drive.

Madison Community Center (photo via Google Maps)“As our population changes and as technology changes the way we deliver services, I believe we have many opportunities to do things differently, particularly in the area of buildings and facilities,” Donnellan said. “I have asked staff to begin evaluation of some of our facilities that require significant capital investment or are underutilized — with one of our initial tasks being how we engage the community and stakeholders in these discussions.”

Possible recommendations for the facilities could include changes in use or closure, said Arlington County spokeswoman Mary Curtius.

“The evaluations will look at a full range of options, including no change in use, repurposing these facilities for a new use (County or otherwise), or potentially closure — but it’s preliminary to speculate until the process is complete,” she said. “As the Manager’s message noted, one of the initial starting points will be to get public input — and other evaluation factors will include utilization rates and building condition and age, among others.”

Artisphere signAlso on the chopping block is Artisphere, the Rosslyn-based cultural center that opened with high expectations in 2010. As previously reported, Donnellan is including $1.8 million in taxpayer funding for Artisphere in her proposed FY 2014 budget, but warning that she’s “assessing its performance and programming model” for next year.

“We’re going to evaluate the fiscal sustainability,” she told County Board members on Wednesday. “I’m forcing them to reevaluate how they operate. It’s an expensive operation to continue and I need to evaluate it to make sure it’s sustainable.”

Photos (top, middle) via Google Maps

  • Oh god

    The hater flood gates just opened..

    • Hee-Haw

      Its friday, maybe everyone here will cut them a break today.

      but don’t worry. Our regular negative comment responder will be here shortly to set everyone straight. Just give him time to conduct his research and prove everyone wrong.

      • Observer

        Your comment came too late. Drax is already here!

        • drax

          I’m always here. Watching you. Watching…and waiting.

    • Arlington Follies

      Jay’s aquatics center and Chris’ streetcar to nowhere are expensive to operate, too. Are they being added to the chopping block so that the taxpayers can be spared more pain?

  • Ashton Heights

    Mr. Zimmerman, Tear down that sphere!

    • Arlcommenter

      How dare they close Artisphere! what will we all be able to complain about then?

      • Dan

        I have faith in the county board…just when you think that they can’t outdo themselves, they reach deep into their bag of frivolous waste and pull something out !!

    • Dan

      Good one !!

  • JamesE

    Just convert the artisphere into the homeless shelter

    • Hee-Haw

      but that’s too easy.

    • muldoon

      Turn it into “Rays the spheres” – a Rocky mountain oyster restaurant?

  • NewSchools

    Hey, Let’s build two new elementary schools and then close a community center (Madison) that used to be an elementary school. Maybe if hand A spoke to hand B they could have realized that building a new elementary school on the Madison site would have been a better idea.

    • grace

      yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes

      • dirty biker

        Are there deferred maintenance issues or something? Isn’t Madison pretty much right where overcrowding is most serious? Does anyone know why converting it back into a school isn’t on the table or being discussed?

      • School Dad

        Actually, no, no, no, no. Madison was evaluated for its potential to be an elementary school and it was not a very viable option compared to the Williamsburg site and other additions. If you go on line and try to draw a school boundary for Madison, you will find that there are not enough kids in a walkable area to make it work. You would have to bus kids from all over and it would seriously mess with the boundaries for other schools in that area. Madison as an ES would be among the most disruptive of the boundary change possibilities. Now Madison may still play a role in solving the capacity crisis. For example, we desperately need a new middle school and we also need a new high school, despite having just rebuilt the ones we have. But don’t assume that hand A didn’t talk to hand B. There were many such discussions.

    • LPL

      actually, the Madison center is too far east of the school crunch. plus, it wouldn’t be usable – it would need to be torn down and rebuilt. but there are historic aspects to the site limiting the size of building that can go there. but, thanks for playing. this was all analyzed when deciding where to build the new elementary schools.

  • Jonathan

    The “Madison Community Center” is in fact a mothballed elementary school. As a community center, it is under-utilized. The school system is facing an over population crush and looking to build new schools. Am I the only one who thinks this is simple math?? Convert Madison back into an elementary school!

    • grace

      yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes
      this has been said for years – especially when the 1/2 million dog park went in next door. This building is in great shape. plenty of outdoor space and civil war history right out the window.

      • School Dad

        See my response above and LPL’s as well. Madison is not the solution to the elementary school crisis. It may be a solution to other problems in the future if the historic preservation issues can be solved. Oh, and do you really want to reopen the debate about where to put the dog park?

  • novasteve

    Hey board, what are you going to do with your failed street cars? can I have them for a restaurant?

    • drax

      The streetcar will be a success.

      Just wondering – did you complain about Metro too?

      • novasteve

        Yes, it might be a success if they are right about the snobs in this county that are too insecure to be seen on a bus, but will suddenly give up their leased BMWs if we get trolleys. Either way, it speaks volumes about the people here. Oh no! I can’t be seen on a bus, but I can be seen on a trolley so much so that I will not even show off my leased BMW!! Because I like trolleys so much!

        • jackson

          For someone who supposedly doesn’t care about what he drives, you spend a LOT of time discussing what other people are driving.

        • Dezlboy

          Your generalization of the people (snobs?) who may take the streetcar is over the top. For one, consider the elderly who can’t physically manage the height of the steps on the bus (even if they are lowered…). But the pavement level trolley is manageable.

          • novasteve

            NEver heard of kneeling busses? Isn’t that what people advocated, that snobs won’t take the bus, so they want the streetcar to people who don’t want to be seen on the bus?

      • More Facts

        Lib-steve tells us he uses publicly-funded Metro, public buses, state universities, federally subsidized student loans, and is “allegedly” employed in the legal system which is almost 100% dependent on government for its existence.

      • Evil Trolley

        You can’t really compare the trolley to Metro: local vs. regional transportation system. Metro good, trolley bad.

        • drax

          But I just did.

          • Hee-Haw

            and it doesn’t make sense

          • drax

            Oh well.

  • YTK

    I do not keer
    For the Artispheere.
    Get rid of it.
    That area is a godforsaken no man’s land anyway.

    • RosRes

      Gee, we like you too. Sheesh!

  • snarlnow

    …or hybrid swimming pool, trolley car barn.

    • snarl

      hey! cease & desist……;-)

  • thrak

    Jonathan exactly agrees with you.

  • John Fontain

    If only there were an under utilized building or two that could be used as a homeless shelter so we wouldn’t have to buy a new property…

  • confused

    Rosslyn BID should help fund Artisphere. And get say in running it, in exchange.

    • Maven

      They do help fund it, actually. Rosslyn BID cares a lot about Artisphere’s survival, and their board president, Peter Greenwald, is also on Artisphere’s board. Not sure how much influence that board has over programming, but could be substantial if the county decides to reduce the amount of money they’re putting in.

      Although it got off to a really lame start, Artisphere’s programming and operations have gradually improved over the last 6-9 months. Now that Avant Bard is no longer taking up one of their venues for nine months, they might get more stuff in their that people want to see and pay for.

      • Wuh


      • confused

        thanks. Is rosslyn BID taking it over completely out of the question?

        • Maven

          I don’t know. They may not want complete responsibility for it. But Arlington Economic Development is also allowing Artisphere to set up its own 501c3 to raise money directly.

          • Orange Rider

            I doubt the BID wants all that much to do with the day-to-day of Artisphere. They are not in the business or running art galleries, they would rather just market the area and do PR for themselves.

            Whichever developer it was (Monday I think; also a BID member) hoodwinked the county into taking the property over rent-free to get them off the hook for providing a community benefit for some site plan modifications they were granted. From Monday’s perspective, and probably most of the BID members, they just want the county to deal with it and let them move on.

  • southarlington

    Come everyone that would be to easy and to cheap to think that they could repurpose those communtiy centers…it makes to much sense does the board every do something that makes sense and the voters may really like and appauld them ?

  • novasteve

    I bet you a dryer lint convention on the same spot as artisphere would attract more people.

    • RosRes

      Really? Because I was at an opening at Artisphere last night and it was completely packed.

      • Maven

        I wish they charged for those – last opening I went to there was free and they also served free food and drink.

      • novasteve

        Which board member are you RosRes?

        • Paula Mills

          Let’s review: you hide behind a fake name, yet you want RosRes to identify his/her name? How shallow of you.

  • novasteve

    I’m just curious for those on the board, and their apologists, if Arlington County can’t even come close to being even on their RENT FREE lease for the artisphere, how do they expect a trolley system or an 80 million dollar pool to do any better?

    • Hee-Haw

      don’t worry, it was proclaimed earlier that the trolley will be a success !!

      • drax

        Are you declaring it will be a failure?

        • Hee-Haw

          I’m not in the prediction business.

          • drax

            Well, that’s good to know.

          • DCBuff

            I’m going to make a prediction: those that support the streetcar will declare it a success, regardless of cost, and those that oppose the trolley/support other options will declare it a failure, the size of the failure related to the cost.

        • Dan

          “Are you declaring it will be a failure?”

          I declare that it won’t break even without substantial accounting shenanigans….how is that ??

          • m

            Well obviously – it’s not intended to break even. The libraries, roads, and parks don’t break even either, and don’t even get me started on much money the schools lose.
            All these things are infrastructure, built at taxpayer expense for the benefit of the community. Not everyone will ride the streetcar, just like not everyone has kids in the schools. That doesn’t make any of these things “failures.”

    • fuzzy

      They don’t. They’ve already admitted they expect to lose up to $2M each year on the Aquatic Center operations. I haven’t seen the figures on the Trolley, but I know they don’t expect to come close to turning a profit each year. These figure also don’t include the annual interest costs from the bond repayments. Just ridiculous.

      • drax

        Government functions shouldn’t be expected to turn a profit. Maybe support themselves partly, but not pay for themselves.

        • Alex

          So waste and water don’t pay for themselves?

          • drax

            Some government services support themselves. None should be EXPECTED to. It’s government.

            If you think they should pay for themselves, fine. Don’t assume they should.

          • Sewerman

            No……not remotely close. Water and sewer fees don’t begin to cover the actual cost of treatment and infrastructure maintenace.

      • CW

        Can someone explain to me where this mentality came from saying that all government ventures have to be profitable aside from tax revenue? That if X million in taxes comes in and is spent on public services, the government is “losing” that X million? I don’t understand this viewpoint; it makes no sense.

        • Mikey

          My guess is that the confusion comes about when certain amenities (public transit, swimming pools) charge fees – when there is a fee, people assume that the fee “should” cover all operating costs, or even turn a profit. Whereas people instinctively understand that free things like schools, parks, and libraries are not expected to be profitable.

      • Josh S

        I’m with CW on this. Are schools supposed to turn a profit? What about police stations? Wastewater treatment plants? How about the road that goes by your house?
        There are no transit systems in the country that turn a profit. They’re not supposed to, expected to, needed to, etc.

        • John Fontain

          Maybe they are questioning how a system can be considered “improved” if the end result is that it loses even more money than the system it replaced?

          • DCBuff


          • confused

            well I guess its improved if it provides a better ride than buses do, has greater capacity, draws more riders, and induces more development. Whether thats worth the incremental cost will depend on how much of that happens – esp how many additional riders. If it has a lot more riders, I think it can be declared a success.

          • CW

            Umm, ok, so let’s say that in situation A there is some amount of development which is served by roads that cost $2M a year. The development brings in tax revenue of $5M a year. In situation B, there is more development, due to transit. The transit costs $4M a year, twice as much, but the tax revenue is $10M. So the second system is “losing even more money than the system it replaced” but you have improved quality of life for a lot of people, and higher revenue generation. Even if you have to spend the additional $5M in revenue on added services to accomodate the increased population, I would still argue that there is a net positive in the form of improved quality of life for a lot of people.

          • Jason

            The best example of something that does not turn a profit but which requires millions of dollars of maintenance and investment every year — roads. No one complains about the subsidy to drivers.

          • DCBuff

            “The best example of something that does not turn a profit but which requires millions of dollars of maintenance and investment every year — roads. No one complains about the subsidy to drivers.” You seem to be abundantly unaware of the debate over legislation in Richmond for several weeks involving the gas tax and raising the general sales tax all to focus revenues for transportation. The gas tax pays for roads and is paid for by drivers. Not a subsidy.

  • BBMS

    I bet VHC would love to acquire that Edison property to expand.

  • brown before green

    The grounds of Madison alone are nearly 10 acres, valued at over $9 million. Sale would bring small windfall, eliminate operating costs, and create new tax revenues as redeveloped with high-end homes.

    • drax

      We can’t just go selling off every property to cover a short-term deficit. Then what happens when we need it again, for, like, new schools?

      • fuzzy

        Then turn it into a school now since we have a shortage. If not, sell the land, eliminate the operating costs and start reaping the additional property tax revenue each year.

      • brown before green

        Not suggesting we do it casually or frequently. But both the County and APS have been avoiding Madison for the past several years, and since it is up at the northern tip of the County, maybe its time has come… to go.

        • dullest knife

          No, you definitely suggested that Arlington immediately liquidate every real property asset they have to raise money to fix the budget. Every property.

  • novasteve

    Given the artisphere is shaped like a planetarium, why not make it into one, then have star trev conventions on a weekly basis so people will actually show up at other times as well?

    • drax

      “Star Trev” conventions – great idea!

      Beam me up, bro!

      • novasteve

        If they made star trek uniforms with collars, I would have a popped collar star trek uniform.

    • star trev

      I see what you did there.

      I would only show up at my convention if there were pizza with plenty of garlic available.

    • WeiQiang

      on screen, Mr. Sulu! open a hailing frequency, brah!

      • Bones

        Dammit, Trev! I’m a doctor, not a pizza chef!

  • Civil War

    You can’t do that. The area is the grounds of an old civil war fort. The groundworks are still there. No way it would be redeveloped.

    • JohnB

      I think the SHPO would get to determine what could be done there.

    • Dezlboy

      @Civil War. No wonder the Artisphere is a flop. It’s built above a burial ground for Confederate soldiers!

  • Douglas Parker

    It’s disappointing to see that the discussion of shuttering money losers for the county did not come BEFORE the raising taxes/laying people off discussion.

    • BBMS

      The factors that led up to the current deficit took them completely by surprise.

    • JQP

      As a Republican, I think that the layoffs are a good thing. Fewer people at the public trough. I agree on the taxes, of course.

      • drax

        Of course you do – you don’t think about what we need or don’t need – you just automatically assume it’s too much.

        • JQP

          What we need is people putting in a full day’s work. The manager wrote in her letter that county employees were already taking on more due to hiring restrictions and now these layoffs. Doesn’t appear to be breaking any backs. If morale sinks to the point where they can’t hire, then they’ve shrunk too far.

          I mean, look at how much time you have each and every day to comment relentlessly on this website. Surely your supervisor at 2100 Clarendon could give you a few more things to do.

          • Dirty biker

            The floggings will improve until morale improves.

            What a crazy y to look at organizational efficiency…

  • Too Much

    Chopping block? Stolen Chicken? Too much, too much! Uncle, Uncle I say!

  • speonjosh

    I would pay $100 to keep Madison just the way it is. There are precious few tucked away refuges like it.

    • Using It Correctly, roight?

      Touche, sir!

  • Whatawaste

    No shocker Arlington County Board mingling too much with DC politicians. Trying to raise taxes and spend more money instead of trying to find ways to save money. I agree we need more schools and less “free” places for people to go. Or even facilities that are making no money. Why don’t they start acting like it’s a business. If business was losing money they would close up shop (except USPS, but that’s a whole other discussion). We need new people on the Board and people that know how to balance a checkbook.

    • Zzz

      If government were actually run like a business, you would be the first one crying about all the services you used to receive and now can’t get anywhere because there is no one in the private sector who finds it interesting or profitable to do so.

    • tce

      … more schools? who’s going to pay for that luxury? I don’t have kids so why am I paying for those? if we are going to take you’re ‘run like a business’ model then let’s do it like airlines and pay fees for what you use… I don’t use schools so I could save a fortune there…

  • Craigie

    If the Artisphere should close, so should community centers in every neighborhood of Arlington. Why should Rosslyn pay such a high percentage of the property taxes in Arlington yet have no taxpayer-funded amenities? Why should the Artisphere be expected to make a profit? Last time I checked, the County fitness centers charged an extremely-low monthly membership fee; surely they cannot be “turning a profit.”

    Ever since the Newseum closed in Rosslyn, the private sector has shown no interest in the space. Nor has the nonprofit museum sector. Thus, the Artisphere. It seems as if people are also saying that it would be great if the space were vacant, because, although it would be “running a loss,” it would be less of a “loss” than it runs with current active programs.

    • WL95

      The county does not own the building. So if they walked away from it, they would have zero losses going forward, whether it sat vacant or not. And maybe the property owner could then get on about building something useful there.

      • Maven

        That’s the whole point – the owners couldn’t get anything else in there. It sat empty for years. Only the arts community has been brave (or foolish) enough to try and use it.

      • acdc hack

        They would have the not insubstantial costs of laying off the staff so no, the cost of this will haunt the county for sometime.

  • YorktownStudent

    I went to a cool PostSecrets event at the Artisphere once! But I haven’t seen anything else interesting since.

  • APSnumberone

    Yes, Madison of course should be turned back over to the School Board. It could be used as a preschool center, or move the Children’s School there and open Reed as a neighborhood school to alleviate crowding. No-brainer. Other school programs could also be located in some of these underutilized community centers. Let’s put these two boards together and make them talk to one another, for heavens sake!

  • WhiskerBiscuit

    35M in the red? This giveaway for snobs needs to be the first to get the axe

  • ACDC Hack

    And who can forget this “oldy but goody”…….

  • amya

    So the County Board is willing to spend millions on projects that nobody wants — like the Columbia Pike streetcar — but keeps threatening to close Madison Community Center, which is the only facility serving Arlingtonians north of Lee Highway. Madison offers plenty of free parking, lots of available rooms, and is convenienly located for so many of us in North Arlington. It is currently used for: day care, voting, community fitness, aerobics, senior strength training, childrens’ summer camp, yoga, bridge, and many other community activities. All too often when leaders of the various county program are looking to add classes, they try to cram them into overcrowded facilities like Langston Brown, overlooking Madison. It is an asset that needs to be retained for the good of the community. .


Subscribe to our mailing list