Fairfax County Takes Decisive Action on Workhouse Arts Center Financing and Governmental Structure

Jan. 14, 2014

News Highlights

  • In order to renovate the Fairfax County-owned Workhouse Arts Center and to provide a cultural arts venue for the community, the Lorton Arts Foundation (LAF) entered into approximately $60 million of debt.
  • At present, LAF has debt obligations of nearly $60 million to Wells Fargo Bank, an unsustainable debt burden for this arts organization.
  • LAF was unable to live up to its financial obligations to support this debt.
  • The current LAF Board will be abolished, the organization will be restructured and a new Board will be appointed with ongoing, close Fairfax County oversight.
  • In light of this, the Board authorized settlement of all issues between Wells Fargo Bank and the Lorton Arts Foundation and any related issues impacting county leases and obligations.
  • This action protects the historically important Workhouse Arts Center campus, situated on the site of the former Lorton prison.
  • Continued adaptive reuse of this historic property is now possible, ensuring site stabilization and preservation and improved quality of life in the surrounding Laurel Hill community.


Fairfax County Takes Decisive Action to Restructure the Financing and Governmental Structure of the Workhouse Arts Center to Ensure its Long-term Sustainability

Wells Fargo is writing off approximately $30 million, or half of the outstanding debt owned by the Lorton Arts Foundation (LAF). Because this land is owned by Fairfax County, the Workhouse Arts Center provides important cultural opportunities for the region and litigation over any default of the debt could affect county interests, the Board of Supervisors voted to provide $30 million as its share of an agreement with Wells Fargo Bank to cancel all remaining LAF debt obligations.  As part of this agreement, since LAF was unable to live up to its financial obligations, the current LAF Board will be abolished, the organization will be restructured and a new Board will be appointed with ongoing close Fairfax County oversight.

At its meeting today, Jan. 14, the Board of Supervisors authorized the purchase of the leasehold interests in the renovated Workhouse Arts Center campus owned by Fairfax County and currently occupied by the Lorton Arts Foundation. This will settle all issues between LAF and Wells Fargo Bank. 

The Board of Supervisors has been committed to identifying long-term solutions to this fiscal situation, while honoring prior commitments to open space, parkland and rustic settings that reflect community interests expressed during the intensive land-use planning process for the site.

“The action we took today preserves the Workhouse as an important community treasure, reflecting our commitment to strong financial management and our long history of taking decisive actions to address neighborhood and community needs,” said Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova.  “We have ensured the viability of this cultural and historic landmark so it can serve county residents for the long-term.”

The Workhouse Arts Center is a 56-acre, historically important landmark owned by Fairfax County, situated on the site of the former Lorton prison operated by the District of Columbia.  Originally constructed in the early 1900’s, it is on the National Park Service’s Register of Historic Places. The prison facility closed in 2001 and the following year, it was part of a 2,440-acre purchase by Fairfax County from the federal government.

Much of the land was set aside for parks and open space, and the county was required to develop an adaptive reuse plan for the associated buildings.  The County’s non-profit tenant, LAF, implemented the adaptive reuse plan on the Workhouse portion of this property, restoring 10 historic buildings on the campus encompassing approximately two acres improved space.  To fund this renovation, LAF obtained tax-exempt bond financing.

The Board of Supervisor’s action will enable the continued adaptive reuse of this historic property; provide for site stabilization and preservation; and improve the quality of life in the surrounding Laurel Hill community through sustained arts programming at the Workhouse Arts Center complex.

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