Monday, October 27, 2008

Gates Center Opens with Fanfare

The ceremony had all the action befitting a grand opening of a new building—a standing-room-only crowd of hundreds, cotton-candy, popcorn, foosball, a tent with hot dogs, burgers and enchiladas, and music—and, of course, it had speeches from county luminaries.

AHC, Inc. President and CEO addresses the crowd at the Grand Opening. (Click to enlarge the image.)

The Buckingham community gathered Saturday to celebrate the opening of the new Gates of Ballston Community Center at 4108 N. 4th St.

“The biggest statement that this facility makes is the statement about our values,” said Barbara Favola, the vice chair of the Arlington County board. She said she came on behalf of her board colleague, Chairman Walter Tejada, a well-known politician in the Buckingham neighborhood.

Ms. Favola said the center is a concerted effort on the part of the county to put services into the neighborhoods where the services are needed. This was the one line in all the speeches that drew applause without it being asked for.

Arlington County Board Vice Chair Barbara Favola cuts the ribbon at the Gates of Ballston Community Center. Behind her (l-r) are: Connie Sherman, the director of the Gates of Ballston Outreach Center; Christopher Donald, formerly of AHC, Inc., he led most of the $108 million Gates renovation; Rick Leeds, the director of AHC Management; and John Walsh of AHC, Inc. (Click to enlarge the image.)

“The county is the proud sponsor of most of the programming in this building,” she said. The county also helped finance the building with an $8.5 million loan to AHC, Inc., the owner and developer of the property. The building was part of the $108 million renovation of the Gates of Ballston property. The project funding came from numerous corporate and affordable housing partners.

And the community center is designed for community service, with a large, colorful party room on the main floor, offices for AHC Management, offices for BU-GATA (the tenants association), child care upstairs, and space for the Buckingham Community Outreach Center which provides computer access, career training, English classes and other services to the largely Spanish-speaking community.

The outreach center has spent its entire life in various apartments all over the Gates’ property, most recently in conjoined two bedroom apartments in a nearby building.

The county and AHC, Inc. have not finalized the outreach center contract for the space on the second floor, county staff and others have said. Those rooms on the second floor are still vacant.

The community room with its orange accent walls, multi-colored curtains, blue counter top in the kitchen area, and a purple fireplace mantel was the centerpiece of the day.

The interior designer, Diana Lamb, called the room “bright,” “cheerful,” and “fun.”

“It was a low-budget job that, with creativity, they got a bang for their buck,” Ms. Lamb said. She said they did not have a lot of money for furniture and paint, but “I don’t think it looks that way.”

In fact, AHC President and CEO Walter Webdale said the teens loved what they saw. “They actually hugged the furniture,” he said, before pausing for effect then adding that he did not know why they would hug the chairs, but they did.

Also on hand for the day were Ron Carlee, the Arlington County manager, Rick Leeds, the president of AHC Management, Patrick Hope, the president of the Buckingham Community Civic Association, Lois Athey, an activist with BU-GATA, and Connie Freeman, the director of the Buckingham Community Outreach Center.

The event ran despite the rains on Saturday from noon to 4p.m.

Related stories…
  • Missed item, another loan subordinated
  • House to be fitness/business center
  • Gates Center to be built

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