Leesburg to weigh saving jobs against preserving history

WASHINGTON — Is preserving history worth the cost of losing more than 500 jobs? That very well could be the question the Town of Leesburg will answer at a meeting Tuesday night.

For years, Loudoun County’s government center, including its circuit and district courts, have called historic downtown Leesburg home. Now, a plan is in the works to expand the facility by building a new 93,000 square-foot building. But to make space for the new development, four buildings on Edwards Ferry Road — some of which date back to the 1800s — are set to be demolished.

Some of the buildings that could be demolished date back to the 1800s. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)
Some of the buildings that could be demolished date back to the 1800s. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

The town’s Board of Architectural Review has appealed the plan, urging the county to preserve the old structures, which it owns.

“If you decide to let these buildings come down, they’re gone forever,” said Ned Kiley, chair of the BAR, during a recent council meeting.

At a January meeting of the Board of Supervisors, news of the appeal had some county officials threatening to move the county government facility out of Leesburg altogether.

Tuesday night, the Town Council will decide whether to approve, reject or modify the appeal submitted by the BAR. The outcome could change the course for the $57 million expansion project.

Leesburg Mayor Kristen Umstattd said she’ll vote to overturn the BAR’s appeal.

“I think the economic viability of the downtown depends on that,” Umstattd said.

The mayor said if the county decided to move the government center elsewhere, downtown restaurants and businesses would take a significant hit. Recovering from the loss, she believes, would take the town at least 10 years.

Vice Mayor Kelly Burk said at a recent town council meeting that this will be a hard vote for her: “To do something that’s gonna have such a negative impact either way.”

County officials have said that if the structures must stay, they won’t find tenants for them, and they will most likely be shuttered.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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