The last 10 days marked the conjunction of three momentous and, to our minds, interrelated developments in the City of Falls Church.
. The final approval by the City Council of the $317 million Atlantic Realty City Center project on Feb. 28 was followed by the celebration of 17 years of consecutive, unbroken weekly publication of the Falls Church News-Press, and the recognition of our chief, the News-Press’ founder, owner and editor Nicholas F. Benton, as the “Business Person of the Year” by the City Council last Monday.
Since the News-Press was founded by Benton in March 1991 with the blessing and moral support of the Falls Church Chamber of Commerce, the paper has editorialized relentlessly for the kind of large-scale development along the City’s commercially-zoned corridors, which achieved a milestone and major inflection point with the approval of the City Center project last month.
In only the paper’s fourth edition, on April 18, 1991, Benton penned an editorial entitled, “Go Out and Get It.” He wrote, “The single biggest factor threatening the City’s fiscal well-being in recent years has been the steady decline in revenues generated from business activity…It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that unless steps are taken to swiftly reverse that trend in the coming year, the future viability of the City as we have come to know it will be in question.”
He added, “But to get the kind of business to locate here that we want, we have to go out after it, and make some changes of our own, if necessary, to get it here. This does not contradict the goals of those who see quality of life and quality of education as paramount for Falls Church. Without the tax base to support these objectives, they cannot be obtained or maintained.”
The same month, the City Council dedicated a small sum of $50,000 to the creation of what became a new, fledgling economic development instrument, a so-called “Private-Public Partnership,” and Benton was on its founding Board of Directors. Benton then became president-elect, and subsequently served two terms as president of the Chamber of Commerce, and has served on its Board of Directors ever since.
Upon becoming president of the Chamber in 1993, Benton created something called the Chamber’s “Parent-Teacher-Student Advisory Committee.” This novel innovation was designed to enable the Chamber to reach out to the Falls Church community, to create a better appreciation for how business development and maintaining quality schools are in concert, and not at odds, each with the other.
Then, in a stunning move, the Chamber went on record in April 1995 supporting the full funding of the City School Board’s budget request. Psychologically, that turned the corner for the City to fully embrace economic development, setting the table for all that has followed since.