Sunday, September 21, 2003

Fairfield to break ground on community arts center

$9.6 million building to fill in Village Green

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

FAIRFIELD - After years in the planning, the city's Community Arts Center breaks ground Monday, filling out Village Green, the new downtown for this Butler County suburb.

Construction on the $9.6 million building along Wessel Drive will begin soon so it can open by late 2004 or early 2005, in time for the city's 50th anniversary.

The two-story, 40,000-square-foot brick building will feature a 250-seat theater and senior citizen-only room with billiards, large sunroom, fireplace and TV.

"The beauty of this community arts center is the emphasis is on community," Councilman Jeffrey Holtegel said.

"There is going to be something for literally everybody. It's the last piece of the puzzle, and it fits nicely."

There also will be arts and crafts rooms, a dance and fitness studio, an art gallery, a children's area with an outside playground and a large multipurpose room with a balcony overlooking Village Green park, an amphitheater, shops, Symmes Tavern on the Green and the Lane Public Library.

Filling a need

John Lawson, chairman of the Fairfield Cultural Arts Advisory Commission, lauded the center, saying it fills a huge need in the area for a variety of cultural events.

• The City of Fairfield and its Village Green development is the cover story in the latest edition of the Ohio Cities and Villages, a publication of the Ohio Municipal League.
• Written by City Manager Art Pizzano, the piece details the planning, development and quality of life impact the project has had on this aging Butler County city. Several photos of Village Green also are featured.
• Village Green has become a model within Greater Cincinnati among "smart growth" advocates and planners. It mixes businesses with a public park, amphitheater, library, bronze sculptures and, now, a community arts center - all within short walking distance to homes.
In the theater, 150 seats will be fixed, while 100 can be removed and replaced with a floor for a large, multipurpose stage, he said.

"The phenomenal success of the Village Green Amphitheater will carry over into the winter months at the cultural arts center with the theater," Lawson said. "We already have had a great deal of excitement from local theatrical groups."

The center should cost the city $200,000 to $500,000 a year to operate, city officials estimate, but the goal is for it to eventually be self-sufficient, Holtegel said.

Last year, Fairfield voters approved an income tax reallocation to pay for the center and a new, $9.9 million justice center, which is being moved from Ohio 4 to a new location just outside Village Green across from the Fairfield Municipal Building on Wessel.

The reallocation shifts one-tenth of one percent, or about $1.2 million a year, from the city's street improvement fund into the general fund.

It does not increase the city's 1.5 percent income tax rate and won't take affect until January 2004.

Next: justice center

After Monday's 6 p.m. groundbreaking ceremony for the community arts center, City Council is expected to approve at their 7 p.m. meeting a $770,000 architect contract for a new justice center.

The existing building on Ohio 4, which houses the city's police department and courts, has become overcrowded and outdated.

Construction on the new center likely will start in early 2005 so it can open in 2006. It will include a new, state-of-the-art communications center expandable to future technologies.

A heated debate in Fairfield last spring and summer over the majority of City Council's choice to place the justice center so close to Village Green has died down.

But some residents - and a few City Council members who were opposed to the site selection - still are hopeful the new justice center will go elsewhere.

"Many of us don't feel it should be on one of the highest traffic corners of the city," said Jack Loeffler, president of the Village Green Homeowner's Association.

"People in Village Green would like to see an ice cream or coffee shop, the restaurant or boutique or a little two- or three-show movie theater like Mariemont."


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