Published: November 12, 2009
Members of the Manassas City Council like the idea of commemorating the 150th anniversary of the First Battle of Manassas so much that they’re ready to give up $100,000 to make it happen in 2011.
The battle, fought July 21, 1861, was the first major engagement of the Civil War.
Creston M. Owen, chairman of the board of Virginia Civil War Events Inc., was before the board Monday asking for the money.
Owen’s outfit of volunteers is poised to begin organizing the nine-day commemoration that is set to include a Blue and Gray Ball at the Candy Factory, a re-enactment of the First Manassas battle, breakfast with the troops and concerts on the lawn of the Manassas Museum and at the battlefield.
Owen told the council that it’s time to get started if the aim is to educate and attract the crowds that will generate income and put the area on the map.
“We’re only 18 months away. If we don’t start beating the drum now, we won’t get people here,“ Owen told the council.
Councilman Mark Wolfe called the appropriation an investment.
“The citizens out there can very well question why we would spend $100,000 ... an absolutely legitimate question particularly in these economic times, but the answer to that is we don’t have much choice,“ Wolfe said.“This is a once-in-a-lifetime, God-given chance for our community to stage something that can give and give and give.“
Wolfe said the commemoration of the sesquicentennial could be epic if done correctly.
“If we pull this off right, we’re going to create a Super Bowl-type event with all the publicity, all the notoriety and all the money that comes from that scale of an event,“ he said.
Owen told the council that he is looking for money elsewhere to supplement the city’s contribution.
“I believe we have pretty good support from the county. We’re making a formal request to them for a quarter of a million dollars, and from all indications at this point, it looks like we’re going to get that support,“ Owen said.
Owen has also met with the Prince William delegation of the Virginia General Assembly seeking another $1 million from the state.
“They are very excited about what we’re doing,“ he said of the delegation members.
Councilman Marc T. Aveni pointed out that the council’s unanimous vote Monday night only authorized an initial disbursement of $50,000.
Giving out the remainder of the money would be contingent on the county committing to its portion, Aveni said.
Councilman J. Steven Randolph called the commemoration a “natural.“
“Not only are we historically a central point, we’re a central point geographically to draw people to Manassas,“ he said.
Councilman Jonathan L. Way, who described himself as a “fiscal fuddyduddy,“ said he voted to spend the money because the city needed to look to the future.
“This is a wonderful project. We need always to have something grander than ourselves - looking ahead - where we’re trying to improve and develop the city,“ Way said.
Owen, who expects to organize tour packages to bring people from surrounding areas on trains and buses, said he hopes 250,000 people, including re-enactors and their families, show up over the nine days of the commemoration.
Tourists who visit national battlefield parks spend an average of $48.65 per person, per day, according to the Civil War Preservation Trust.
Owen said that if 100,000 people show up over the nine days of the event, that would pump roughly $43 million into the local economy.
“Of that, 24 percent is spent on lodging, 27 percent on food and beverage, 26 percent on shopping and 8 percent on admissions to museums and stuff like that,“ Owen said.