The future of Lorton's Workhouse Arts Center now lies in a potential deal between Wells Fargo and Fairfax County, according to a meeting on Aug. 2 with arts center CEO John Mason and resident artists.
Mason said that the Lorton Arts Foundation board (which manages the nonprofit) is unable to pay Wells Fargo $52 million in bonds.
"There is no scenario, never has been and never will be a scenario in which the current activities on this campus would generate sufficient money to pay $2.8 million per year in bond debt, in addition to the normal expenses for operating the place,” said Mason, whose statements were recorded by a meeting attendee. “Therefore, there has to be a negotiation between the county (which owns the land) and the bank.”
The LAF board, which has committed to raising $511,000 in fundraising this fiscal year, revised its FY2014 budget last month after Wells Fargo wanted to use Fairfax County’s allocation of $750,000 as payment toward the debt. Consequently, the FY2014 budget was amended and six full-time employees were let go, including the marketing director and the director of the glass program.
There is the possibility that the bank could take over the facility (if no compromise on debt payment is reached), but due to zoning laws, the Workhouse must remain an arts center. In that case, it could take over operations and decide on whether to keep its current administrators or bring in a new team.
Mason anticipates the bank wanting to keep the resident artists on campus.
“You all are in the safest position, because you generate revenue,” Mason told the artists.
What will it take to make the Workhouse Arts Center profitable?
Commercial activity that brings in rent is needed on campus, said Mason, and it means a two-to-three year rezoning process to allow commercial, rent-paying entities to exist on campus. One idea is to build a 150-room hotel on the grounds of an historic on-site ball field to support a yet-to-be renovated events center.
Mason, who said he took a voluntary 40 percent pay cut this fiscal year, also announced that he recently began working part-time to reestablish the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority office structure and administration. He said the position does not impair his work with the Workhouse.
The Workhouse, former home to the Lorton prison, has struggled financially since it opened in 2008. It is set on 55 acres and features more than 100 artists with studios, live theater performances, classes, art shows, dinners and movie nights.The next LAF board meeting is in September.
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