By Gina Caceci, Marty Meserve & Elizabeth Meade
There is another small and treasured Falls Church business with its future on the line in the Broad & Washington project — Creative Cauldron.
Creative Cauldron’s founder and producing director, Laura Connors Hull, the board of directors, sponsors, donors, artists, and patrons have invested a significant amount of money and time to find a permanent home. This is our dream and we thought we had made it come true with the support of Insight Development and City Council.
When we began in 2002, we promised ourselves that we would give back to the community, and we have succeeded in doing that. In everything we do, we are mindful of our mission to “make the arts accessible and affordable to the community we serve.” In addition to our regular programming, we have an on-going commitment to provide arts education opportunities to at-risk and underserved populations. Beginning with our work in local Title One Schools, and continuing with our scholarship and free workshop programs offered to Homestretch, we believe in the transformative power of the arts. We believe that creativity is a fundamental need of the human spirit and have worked to bring opportunities for learning, inspiration, community and enjoyment to all.
Needless to say, to find out that all of our work and efforts for the last 18 years could disappear in the City of Falls Church because of a temporary parking situation is frightening. We don’t think Creative Cauldron will be able to survive in the City of Falls Church if we don’t have the opportunity to move into our new space. Our current location, although we have achieved success there, has been a challenging effort for a locally grown non-profit theater to negotiate. We have been through four different landlords, had our rent increased by 25 percent rent this year, and have seen our CAM (Common Area Maintenance) charges increase yearly. And now, unfortunately, we do not have assurance from our most recent landlord that we will be allowed to stay beyond our current lease, which expires in June 2021. We need the security of a long term lease at predictable rates which is what the Broad & Washington project will give us. The new space will also have 2,000 more square feet for about the same price we are paying now.
We shouldn’t have to pit the survival of one small business against another in our development quests. All three small businesses in question are success stories. Our productions have received 29 Helen Hayes Awards recommendations, 24 nominations and three awards. We are fans of Thompson Italian and Clare and Don’s, and we want them to be successful as well. We love having restaurant partners and it is our hope that the hundreds of patrons who like to dine before and after our productions will be introduced to and enjoy Clare and Don’s and Thompson Italian when we are in our new space.
We are dismayed that the City isn’t showing the same respect and loyalty to our business as it is showing to others.
We love being a part of The Little City. We know we bring value to the City. We bring dozens of actors, musicians, teaching artists and staff to Falls Church, as well as patrons from around the region. We work hard to bring the arts to everyone in our community, regardless of income. In 2019 alone, we provided over $12,000 in scholarships to young people for our camps and classes. We donated over $15,000 in tickets to local veterans and seniors through VetTix and the Fenwick Foundation. We honor every request from all Falls Church and other local non-profits, school organizations, PTAs, Chamber members and others who ask for donated tickets. When permissible with our programming schedule, we make our theater space free and available to local teachers and other nonprofits. We thought Falls Church was focused on small, locally owned businesses that put community first as we do every day.
Creative Cauldron chose Falls Church as its home many years ago, and we hope that Falls Church City has a similar commitment to Creative Cauldron. Creative Cauldron brings more heart and soul — and revenues — to the area than people realize. Office space is empty — and emptying — all over northern Virginia and the Washington region. There are currently 21 pages of office and retail vacancies listed on the Falls Church Economic Development Office website. Traditional retail businesses are closing across the country. Places that offer community and experiences — for example, theater and restaurants — are what create a place where people want to live and to visit. We want to be part of that space in Falls Church.
Let’s work together to find a solution to the temporary parking challenges during the construction of Broad & Washington that will allow everyone’s dreams to come true.