The Manassas City Council voted Wednesday to spend $100,000 on the upcoming 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas.  The 150th anniversary of the first major engagement of the Civil War will take place around the week of July 21, 2011. 

The City hopes to bring in revenue and position itself for long term tourism.   Creston M. Owen, chairman of the board of Virginia Civil War Events Inc. plans to organize 9 days worth of events.  He came before the board on Wednesday to ask for money. 

According to the News and Messenger:

Owen’s outfit of volunteers is poised to begin organizing the nine-day commemoration that is set to include a Blue and Gray Ball at the Candy Factory, a re-enactment of the First Manassas, breakfast with the troops and concerts on the lawn of the Manassas Museum and at the Battlefield.

Owen told the council that it’s time to get started if the aim is to educate and attract the crowds that will generate income and put the area on the map.

“We’re only 18 months away. If we don’t start beating the drum now, we won’t get people here,” Owen told the council.

Owen has also met with the Prince William delegation of the Virginia General Assembly and hopes to get a million dollars from the state for this 9-day event.  To date nothing has been heard publically about the Prince William County involvement in the commemoration of the sesquicentennial or about their plans to infuse money into this venture.

Already citizens are cheering for their home town.  However, an equally strong set of boos are being heard because of the recession,  extremely tight municiple budgets, and basically, a Tea Party mentality.  Is this something that the local governments ought to be supporting or is this an event better handled by private enterprise?

87 Thoughts to “Manassas Council to spend $100K on Civil War Anniversary”

  1. Mom

    As I understand it the 501C has not yet been formed so the question of salaries is a good one but I sense only has the potential for consuming a small fraction of the funding. I would guess the the lion’s share of the money would be spent on advertising, brochures and procuring, for lack of a better term, acts. As to how the jurisdictions split the profits, easy, there are none above and beyond the usual revenues, BPOL, licenses, meals tax revenues, etc. That having been said, a large chunk of the “revenues” generated will go directly or indirectly to other entities, sales tax to the State, additional gas taxes paid by tourists to VRE, etc., etc. The only direct beneficiaries will be a subset of local businesses, principally those in Old Town and that benefit will be a very short lived one. In order for the local jurisdictions to recover the seed money, the event would have to generate something on the order of 35 million in sales of eligible goods and services to recover the money through BPOL. What has been hinted at and danced around is that the seed money is not the only true cost, staff time (I’m guessing hundreds of hours), additional PD overtime, VDOT expenses for street closures and signage (you would be amazed at how much they charge, I choke on it every year), cleanup, port-a-johns, equipment rental, grandstands for the electededs to preen on, etc., etc., etc. Of course a decent cost/benefit analysis would give you a better idea but why spend time and money on that when you are in a hurry to give away funding.

  2. IVAN

    Manassas has the singular distinction of having the battle named after it because it was the closest town to the battle site. Most of the town was destroyed during the war or burned down in a fire in 1906. There are few surviving sites in the City that connect to the War. I’m afraid that the City is just going to be a “stopping off” spot on the way to the Battle Field National Park for Civil War buffs. Surely some people will shop and dine in the City, but enough to recoup the investment of $100,000? I hope no one thinks that “moon-bounces”, funnel cakes, and boths with trinkets and souvineers will convince people to come back year after year.

  3. Civil War Christmas Boutique & Musical Moments

    Saturday, November 21, 11:00 AM

    11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

    La Capilla Restaurant (formerly La Chapelle)

    9329 Main Street

    Manassas VA 20110

    Local artisans and vendors offering unique holiday gifts and wares to support Manassas Museum and Prince William Symphony Orchestra. Dinner and evening musical program will also be offered. Call 571-379-8185 for more information.

    Address: 9329 Main Street, Manassas, VA 20110

  4. I know the Civil War people know about Manassas. That’s why they would want to come if there was some kind of package deal.

    Incidentally, kids on school field trips usually don’t have a choice about where they go. And their teachers probably won’t bring them to Disney. 🙂

  5. @IVAN
    I think, Ivan, it would depend on what the funds were being spent on. The Performing Arts Center is a huge, permanent undertaking. A week of festivities…it’s easier to say, “Okay, let’s spend $300 on paper mache muskets.” (Wouldn’t that be weird?)

  6. Lafayette

    School kids should not be field tripping to Manassas. There’s so many more national monuments and treasures to enjoy downtown(DC) just 26 short miles(haha) from Manassas.. I don’t think any of the teachers in my family would’ve supported a field trip to the battlefields or Disney. They would choose our nation’s capital over Manassas, my goodness.

  7. Lafayette

    Mom :Must be Friday the 13th, Mando, Ivan, M-H, Lafayette and myself all roughly on the same page with nary a hint of bloodshed. All we need is GL to come and bless this unholy matrimony.

    Mom, you are on quite the roll today. A blessing from GL…hahahhahaa!! Oh I can see that now. I don’t think of myself of having much of an imagination, but boy it is working at turbo speed with your comment.

  8. IVAN

    “it would depend on what the funds were being spent on”. That is the $64,000 question. Nobody knows and it doesn’t look like we will find out anytime soon.

  9. @Lafayette
    They could do both and save money by staying here in PWC! (You know, a really smart sales person could sell this. I’m not a smart sales person.)

  10. @IVAN
    Yeah, well they should be clear about that and the funds should be spent on specific items with a concrete price tag.

    Why can’t we find out? FOIA anyone?

  11. Where is our cartoonist when we need him/her? Can I be the wolf?? Please?

  12. The Civil War committee would be out of the realm of FOIA. Plus there is nothing to FOIA yet.

    It will be interesting to see how the BOCS handles this issue. They do check the blogs and I guess by now would rather be picking up chicken doo with their bare hands than deal with this situation–Either that or they need some solid facts before turning loose any public money.

    There’s just something about that senior day care center, cop dashboard cameras, RIF for county employees and no raises that might just be like a cold shower for this initiative. The PW County folks have a long memory.

  13. Lafayette

    A very long memory. However, the newcomers of PWC have no idea just how long the memory of the residents is. In fact, a couple of board meetings ago, I heard the infamous “four horsemen” mentioned.

    I’ve just discussed this with my husband. It is our sincere hope that county will ask some question before handing over the dough.

    The county will be coughing up plenty of money in police overtime for such an event, I’m sure. This will certainly be an opportunity for the all female Equestrian Unit of the PWCPD to really strut their stuff. 😉 I’m sure the US Park Service will have their horseys here too.

  14. Opinion

    Actually, I think you’re wrong about nothing to FOIA. The Civil War Committee had to “ask” for the money. Typically, they give a few lines about what they plan to do with it. The minutes of the meeting where the decision was made will have at least a summary justification (typically). There is perhaps some discussion among City Government and perhaps even a little staff work.

    If the City of Manassas Government would hand over a $100,000 check to a private group without any paperwork trail or justification, I would suggest they be disbanded immediately and folded back into Prince William County Government (and would then agree with the prevailing opinion).

    I still consider $100K a reasonable investment in city tourism; however, that’s just my opinion.

  15. Mom

    With regard to a FOIA, I would hazard a guess that this has actually been brewing for quite some time. As such, I’m sure there is considerable electronic correspondence between city staff, particularly the city manager, and the individuals representing the private entity. My experience is that is often a lot of interesting and largely unknown tidbits in such correspondence.

  16. How does one FOIA a non-government entity?

    I don’t live in the City so I wouldn’t FOIA them anyway unless it directly involved me. However, they do give those of us in the county a glimpse of things to come.

  17. Mom

    You don’t FOIA the 501C, you FOIA the city and get the correspondence from them to the city as it should be public record.

  18. As I thought. But we cannot FOIA their internal workings…just the correspondence between them and city, correct? That is the point I was trying to make to someone earlier in the day.

    I don’t see a need to FOIA anyway. I assume most people are willing to give you the information you want. If they don’t, then think FOIA.

  19. Lafayette

    It seems as though over a hundred acres were seized in PWC very near the battlefield in part of an Iranian investigation. Many real estate holdings have been seized. I’ve just skimmed the story. I wonder if this will have any effect on the occupants’ plans to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas.

    Full story here
    Here’s the information on the larger tract of land in the seizure.
    Parcel ID
    4300 ALDIE RD

    State Code 600 Agr. (over 100 acres)
    Tax Type 1 Reg. Taxable
    Spec. Dist
    Zone A1
    Tax Dist 7 Evergreen
    Reason 01 General Reassessment
    Legal PCL A
    RPC/Acct # 22069
    Appraiser EOY
    Neighborhood 3001 Manassas Battlefield Area
    Acreage 138.2335

    Owner (Jan 1) ALAVI FOUNDATION
    500 5TH AVE
    Zip 101100002

  20. Mom

    Typically, administrative staff for any jurisdiction don’t qualify as “most people” or reasonable people for that matter. Take the staff at the county planning office for example, I’m sure you’ve had dealings with that lot. A lot of things happen behind closed doors and often dealings between staff and non governmental entities or individuals are kept almost on a need to know basis, often without even elected officials being apprised. The first thing any government employee should be told on hiring is never put anything in an e-mail you don’t want read back to you in open session or in court, fortunately, most staff aren’t bright enough to heed that advice or get sloppy over time. FOIA is often a great equalizer and can be a powerful tool when advocating a particular position.

  21. Lafayette

    But, Mom..FOIA is used and abused in the county by some. I do believe we have the right to information, but not for one’s own personal needs/gain. I frankly don’t think it’s every Tom, Dick and Harry’s business what I have to say to the government at any level. Futhermore, I wouldn’t want my personal information and thoughts to be given to the local Nosie Rosie.

  22. Lafayette, the FOIA Queen aka Nosie Rosie has it all. She also acquires info for others who might not want everyone to know that they want to know–you know, like elected officials.

    Several people have abused the FOIA right very much. They have gotten names and other personal information they are not entitled to. If I wanted to wish my supervisor a happy birthday and had my address, phone number and other information on the email, I don’t think that every Tom, Dick, Harry or Nosie is entitled to it. I believe name, town, state are fair game. Anything else is personal.

  23. Lafayette

    I agree with the limits to name, town and state. We no longer have to give our full addresses when addressing the BoS anymore. Just your name and district.
    FOIA’s can be labor intensive and it takes people away from their daily job. I can only imagine how many man hours, pages, and ink have been spent on just some wanting information. I will still advocate for a 50 cent per page copy fee similar to the ones at the courthouses throughout the Commonwealth.
    I truly believe now all topics that seem to make my blood boil have bit upon at least once today. It really is Friday the 13th.

  24. Of course, someone could just write to the City and politely ask that they provide a list of planned expenditures.

  25. @Lafayette
    Yeah I just read that, too. Scary stuff.

  26. Opinion

    @Posting As Pinko
    “Of course, someone could just write to the City…” – when you’re right, you’re right!

  27. PoncHo

    What a bunch of nannies with too much time to gripe about life and politics. The issue here is whether the City of Manassas made a reasonable & responsible business decison by making a small one-time investment to help a non-profit get going on a series of big events that might serve to reverse the tourism failures we already have. FYI Gettysburg toursim is at the 120 million a year level — Manassas does not even register – and what tourism we do get is at the Battlefield. I note from another blog that they VA Tourism Board estimates that every dollor spent in VA to encourage tourism yeilds $5 in more tax revenues and $135 in additional economic stimulus/development. As a local taxpayer that sounds pretty good. The money here is a one time deal. Future events are then funded based on the proceeds from the first event and could continue for years bringing in folks. It works in Gettysburg as a for profit effort with folks getting rich along with the town. I understand that there is a desire here to see the money go into some other social welfare program in these tough economic times, but that is just small minded and self-serving. The opportrunity here is to create something that works for the community, permit the City to spend less on history as the non-profit picks up some of that burden for the City and the County in the future and maybe help support/grow some of the service industries and hotels in the area and that means jobs. Am I correct that there in not one conference center hotel in PWC? With the Quantico Marine Museum on one end along 95 and the Battlefield on the other along 66, tied togehter by the parkway (was that the plan?) we clearly need something to jump start our tourism dollars. I think this is it and its timely. PWC needs to take advantage of the commemoration. We know what what the unaminous vote was, my sense is that those who want to kill the golden goose should stand up and take responsibility – and explain themselves in the same way – by name and address – so we can see what the real agenda for all this “concern” and griping really is.

  28. Does that mean that you have joined the ranks of ‘nannie with too much time on one’s hands,’ Poncho? I can see you have also left a name and address. NOT.

    People are free to express an opinion here, as long as they do it courtesy. I would say we are exploring the question and in particular, we are considering what the county should do, since to date, nothing has been decided or discussed during BOCS meetings.

    Having said that, I don’t disagree that we need a conference center. You make a valid point about the Quantico Museum and the Battlefield. However, do you feel the government should be paying for this conference center or do you think that it should be built with private money?

    Were times not so strapped, many of us might not be looking quite as closely as we are. PWC cop cars don’t have dashboard cameras. Our western end senior citizen center was closed down. The annual cost was less than what the county is being asked to pony up for this venture. County employees did not get a raise last year and more than a handful were laid off.

    Yes, you have to invest money to make money. We are questioning if this 9 day event is going to reap what is sown.

  29. PWC taxpayer

    Yep, I guess I have – not for the nannie agenda but in a reawakened sense that finally somebody is doing something to get to the problem. Tourism is not the only long term solution to ending our reliance on the real estate tax, but its a start and unless Manassas and PWC have a recurring attraction – which our history should be – we never will get that conference center. Gettysburg is a good example with the Eisenhower Conference center built after the 125th aniversary and the commitment to do reenactments every year. You cannot get a room anywhere near Gettysbug when those things are in play. If there is a chance that reenactments will help spur private investments, I am all for reenactments. I hear the grousing but not a better idea. We will see if over the next 5 years there is any discernable change in tourism or tourism related increases in our tax base – much less related private investment. We will also see if more than the publicly budgeted funds are then invested as a result of the reenactments into our heritage assets — and if there is – and I expect there will be – I look forward to an apology to Mr. Owen and the Council. If not, the reverse is true. But, at least they tried.

  30. I’ve heard several areas are about to “pop” as a site for a convention center – most likely, close to Quantico and the Marine Corps Museum. Don’t forget, besides that and the Battlefield, the multi-million-dollar National Museum of Americans in Wartime is opening Nov. 11, 2012.

    Thank God for people of vision (and those that take calculated risks) or nothing would get done.

  31. Alarmed

    I don’t know where to begin to shed some light on some of the falsehoods I’ve read. First of all, tourism is alive and well in PWC County, thanks to the efforts of the CVB and lots of individual historic, cultural, and even retail sites. Virginia Tourism Corp. figures for PWC County say Traveler Spending is More than $419 million, Travel Industry Payroll is More than $112 million, and Travel Industry Employees number More than 6000.

    Contrary to popular opinion, Owens is not the first to think about attracting visitors during the Sesquicentennial. A county-wide committee comprised of reps from national and state parks, historic sites, county government and educators has been meeting for 2 years, was allied with state committees early on, and has an extensive plan for commemorating the events. In fact, members have been meeting with reps in the highest levels of government to coordinate events of national significance.

    Again contrary to popular opinion, re-enactments always occur on significant–and not so significant–battle anniversaries with no intervention from government or private entities. Re-enactors live for these events and do not need to be prodded to produce them. It was the gung-ho, destructive re-enactment celebration at the Manassas Battlefield in 1961 that caused the Park Service to begin prohibiting re-enactments on park grounds. Government does not need to subsidize events that would happen anyway and be financed privately.

    The $100,000 payment to this Manassas committee in fact shifts funds from the city to a committee that does not seem to have to meet performance standards as city employees do. Because this committee will rely on existing groups to actually produce the Sesqui programs and events, the committee seems to be acting as a management arm. At a time when we are exhorted to be gearing up for the Sesqui, at least 2 part-time positions in programs/education at the museum–crucial to presenting these programs– are scheduled to be cut in June. Others may follow due to budget problems within the city.

    Concern among the officially sanctioned Sesqui group has always been that the commemoration be historically based, educational, and balanced. Highlighting the county’s numerous historic sites and receiving national recognition might urge more visitors to come here once the Sesqui is over. Producing Disneyesque events for a couple of weeks, thereby putting in jeopardy our ability to attract top government officials to dignified events, does not seem the most prudent way to attract a long-term tourist base.

  32. Rebecca

    There was not a single person to comment Mr. Owen was the first come up with this idea. Furthermore, you come on this blog to defend that bully and don’t even have the common courtesy of spelling his name correctly. I didn’t read that anyone thought the commemoration should not take place. Many contributors want to know exactly what the government’s funds will be financing. It is the taxpayers’ money.

  33. Alarmed, I am trying to figure out your position in all this 150th. I think most people here are concerned about the money being spent that is public money.

    We also want to know what the county is going to chip in. What will the state contribute?

    Of biggest concern is that the taxpayers really have not had a chance to give input.

    This project might be the greatest thing since sliced bread. We don’t know any details yet. Whatever happens had better be good with jurisdictions having the money problems that that currently have.

  34. Alarmed, thank you for coining sesqui group. That helps a great deal if I can remember to use it.

    I forgot to add, I don’t think anyone thinks that re-inactments are government supported.

  35. Alarmed

    My intent is certainly not to defend Mr. Owen. As a taxpayer I am incensed that the money was allocated behind closed doors and especially that the group has no performance standards to meet as a city or county employee would have. Although a business plan was submitted, it relied largely on plans already made by the county Sesqui group.

    Some of the very employees who have the knowledge and experience to produce these historic programs will soon have their positions eliminated. Presumably Mr. Owen will be free to hire his own employees to present historic programs and will not be held accountable.

    The 150th is important and should be commemorated. But there is no reason to privatize this event when government employees and volunteers can get the work done at no additional cost to the taxpayers.

  36. clueless

    Moonhowler – Your posts have been right on target on this issue but the city of Manassas just plunked down $100,000 for a reenactment and the County is being hit up for $250,000. That is government support without accountability. If the cash starved State ponies up $1,000,000 then I would suggest that is government support as well.

  37. ann

    I have just learned about the areas activities around the 150th anniversary of Civil War battle at Manassas. If this gets enough press it will be more than successful and brings lots of money into your community. Our group is already meeting to make arrangements to attend during the 150th anniversary.What with the ghosts at Manassas Junction and in and around Manassas you could plan activities for example ghost tours etc. Our group plans on camping but we will also need food, transportation around the area etc. Don’t count it out as a money maker, if nothing else apply for Federal grants.

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