The decision is likely to cost local-area musicians a venerable and acclaimed recording studio, but Arlington County Board members on April 17 decided the greater good was served by purchasing and tearing down a building in the Four Mile Run area to make way for future use as an arts venue.
Board members voted unanimously to exercise a two-year-old option agreement to purchase adjoining parcels – at 2700 South Nelson St. and 2701 South Oakland St. – for $3.4 million, then spend another $1.525 million to demolish the existing structure.
If the plan works out, the site could be transformed by the fall of 2022 into an outdoor performing-arts venue.
The effort represents another example of the community “investing in [its] cultural ecosystem,” said Michelle Isabelle-Stark, director of the county government’s Cultural Affairs program. The space to be purchased is located immediately to the south of the existing Cultural Affairs building on South Four Mile Run Drive, near Jennie Dean Park.
Isabelle-Stark’s upbeat assessment resonated with County Board members.
“There is so much potential here,” board member Katie Cristol said, pointing to the Shirlington/Four Mile Run area as “a place for the arts to do what the arts do best – generate community and bring us together.”
Having an arts venue on the other side of Four Mile Run from Shirlington “will produce a lot of new energy” in the area, said County Board member Takis Karantonis.
But – there always seems to be a “but” – the action will not come without a cost. In this case, it would represent the likely end of the road for Inner Ear Studio, one of three tenants in the existing 13,300-square-foot office building that is now set for the wrecking ball.
Arlington should have some appreciation for the history of the company, which has been in the location for decades, said Brian Young, who spoke to board members.
He urged county officials to “maintain this critical piece” of musical infrastructure.
“It is vital,” Young said.
County officials have been in contact with Inner Ear owner Don Zientara; Isabelle-Stark said that while he seeks to remain involved in the community, “he’s not interested in building a new studio.”
But neither he nor two the other tenants (Ben & Jerry’s and the Arlington Food Assistance Center, which occupies space ancillary to its main facility nearby) are likely to have to vacate out anytime soon. County Board members have given the current property owner up to 10 months to turn over the premises, although that would require some monthly payments to the government.
The county government in 2019 signed an option agreement on the property, which has been owned since 2003 by a New York-based limited-liability company. Having already exercised two of the three extensions that were part of the agreement, it was coming down to the wire for a decision.
The purchase price is in line with the 2021 assessed valuation of the property, which is $3.49 million. Being acquired for public purposes will cost government coffers about $35,000 a year in annual real-estate taxes.
Some have eyed the Four Mile Run Valley area opposite Shirlington for an arts-focused district, and having the additional parcel could aid the county government in making that happen. But that is a long-term project; for the moment, improvements to the soon-to-be-acquired parcel would be of the “simple, short-term and low-cost” variety, Isabelle-Stark said.