Herndon is moving on.
Fairfax County’s largest town is going forward with a colorful new branding effort that it hopes will help market its newly-adopted business-friendly attitude—and supersede the internal issues and outside perceptions that only a few years ago made the town the county’s most controversial.
On Tuesday, Herndon Public Information Officer Anne Curtis and first-term Mayor Lisa Merkel unveiled details of a marketing plan that hopes to brand Herndon as a progressive “next generation small town.”
“The energy and passion that Herndon citizens are known for, and that have engendered some spirited conversations over the years, are now increasingly directed toward moving our town forward and embracing the incredible opportunities before us as a part of the thriving Dulles Corridor,” said Merkel.
The plan includes a new town logo that the town hopes local businesses will adopt to provide brand recognition and paint the town as a colorful, inviting place for new residents and businesses alike.
“Development of our new brand and logo was conducted with our business community in mind,” said Curtis. “By communicating our town’s attributes in a clear and consistent way, we elevate Herndon’s image as an exciting and innovative commercial center.”
The new “Town of Herndon” logo capitalizes on the word “on”--the last two letters of the town’s name—as in moving “on” from its immediate battle-ridden past.
A little more than seven years ago, a controversial day laborer center was established within the town under the auspices of one-term Mayor Michael O’Reilly. The center, and its primarily undocumented worker population, led to a bitter political and social divide within the community that was broadcasted widely through both local and national headlines. The center closed in September, 2007.
Outside perceptions of Herndon as insular and anti-immigrant soon followed, as a three-term administration under Mayor Steve DeBenedittis did everything both within—and occasionally outside—its power to cull the town of illegal aliens and spread the word that they were not welcome within town limits. Some of the measures and ordinances enacted by that administration received legal challenges, and were later ruled as unconstitutional, making for more widely-read headlines.
In another controversial action, the Herndon Town Council voted in March, 2007 to make Herndon the first incorporated town in America to allow U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to train and empower local police officers to enforce federal immigration law under a program called 287(g).
The town’s federal immigration police powers were broadened even further in November, 2009.
But now, that is all in the past.
As of Jan. 1, primarily due to federal budget restrictions, ICE has discontinued the 287 (g) program nationwide, and informed the Town of Herndon that its police no longer have use of those federal powers.
“Although the formal 287(g) program has been discontinued, we have over the course of the program developed strong relationships with ICE officials and we will continue to work closely with them to enhance public safety throughout our community,” said Col. Maggie A. DeBoard, Herndon’s Chief of Police.
In 2013, under the Merkel administration and its new business-friendly branding initiative, the town hopes to move past both its controversial history, and also past its other controversial image—the perception that future development within the downtown is unwelcome.
In fall 2008, a proposal by Diamond Properties to build a five-story Element hotel in the downtown area was voted down.
Other development proposals were also turned away, adding to the perception of the town as unweloming and insular.
“In the past, developers would make a proposal and the town council would then sit around and tell them everything they didn’t like,” said longtime Herndon resident and political activist Les Zidel on Tuesday. “It was a very dysfunctional and expensive process for both sides.”
Merkel was in the audience the night the town council voted against the Diamond proposal.
“The night the Diamond Properties proposal was shot down was the night I decided to run for town council,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘this is ridiculous, we have to do better, and now we will. This council will position Herndon as a next generation small town, meaning we will keep our small town charm while embracing the urban metropolis all around us.”