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Flooding on lower King Street in Old Town, October 29, 2021. (staff photo by James Cullum)

It’s about to get a little more expensive to live in Alexandria.

On Saturday, City Manager Jim Parajon will present City Council with proposals to increase:

On ambulances, Council will consider raising the cost of basic life support from $600 to $750, which is about as much as neighboring Fairfax and Arlington Counties charge. As for additional levels of treatment, advanced life support (ALS) treatment would increase from $780 to $1,000, and the most advanced treatment requiring life-saving and other measures could rise from $900 to $1,200.

In the meantime, City Council is also considering a real estate tax increase to fund a significant budget request from the Alexandria School Board.

Parajon estimates that the fee increase will account for $1.1 million in revenue.

The Manager also wants to raise fees for late personal property tax payments. He’s proposing to increase the late payment penalty from a flat rate of 10% to “a rate of 10% if paid within 30 days 20 after the due date, and 25% if paid more than 30 days after the due date,” according to the proposal.

The city’s personal property tax rate is $5.33 per $100 of the assessed value of  vehicles, and $3.55 for vehicles retrofitted to accommodate disabled drivers.

Parajon also wants to increase the stormwater utility fee from $308.7 to $324.10. The increase will help the city pay for infrastructure improvements, Mayor Justin Wilson wrote in April newsletter.

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Good Tuesday morning, Alexandria!

⛈️ Today’s weather: Showers are possible from 2pm to 5pm, followed by potential showers and thunderstorms after 5pm. Expect mostly cloudy conditions and a high of 78°F. Winds will remain calm before turning south at 6 mph in the afternoon, with a 30% chance of precipitation. Tonight, showers and thunderstorms may continue, bringing cloudy skies, a low of 59°F, and a south wind at 6 mph. The chance of precipitation increases to 50%.

🚨 You need to know

Solar panels (file photo)

Tired of paying such a high electric bill? From now until June 30, the city is holding its annual Solarize Alexandria program that provides residents a free assessment for their property to install home solar power systems.

“During this period, Alexandria homeowners can sign up to receive a free solar satellite assessment of their property and discounted prices from vetted solar system installers,” the city said in a release.

According to the city:

This year marks the 10th anniversary of Solarize Alexandria! Solarize Alexandria is part of the broader Solarize Virginia program, a grassroots, community-based outreach initiative managed by the state non-profit Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP). LEAP provides ongoing customer support and education throughout the Solarize process.

Find out more at solarizeva.org.

📈 Monday’s most read

The following are the most-read ALXnow articles for Apr 8, 2024

  1. Notes: City cancels eclipse viewing party in Old Town, but there’s another party at Ben Brenman Park (6127 views)
  2.  Alexandria’s Planet Fitness evacuated after emailed bomb threat (1702 views)
  3. Police: Man released after getting stuck in harness on Seminary Road Bridge over I-395
    (1568 views)

📅 Upcoming events

Here is what’s going on today in Alexandria, from our event calendar.

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The Potomac Yard arena’s demise has been met by mixed emotions from public officials, and even landowner JBG Smith.

Now that the Washington Wizards and Capitals are definitely not coming to Alexandria and will stay in D.C., a proverbial question mark looms over the 12-acre property.

JBG Smith released a scathing message after Alexandria backed out of the deal on March 27, and then lightened up in a recent interview with the Washington Business Journal. Now CEO Matt Kelly says that the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus will be the anchor for the area, and that with Amazon HQ2 nearby in Crystal City, Potomac Yard will become a tech corridor.

Mayor Justin Wilson said that the economic benefits of the arena and entertainment district could have funded a number of city priorities, including a potential reduction of personal property taxes for residents. He wasn’t so optimistic on the future of the property, and called the city leaving the deal  “perhaps the most negative financial event for our schools, public safety and human services in recent history.”

“Regardless of your perspective on the North Potomac Yard proposal, it held the potential to dramatically reshape Alexandria’s economy, easing the burden on our residential taxpayers and enabling expanded investment in critical services to our residents, as well as yielding new land for a school, open space and committed affordable housing,” Wilson wrote in his April newsletter.

The initial agreement was hailed by Republican Governor Glen Youngkin as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it was vigorously supported by Wilson and Ted Leonsis, the billionaire owner of both teams.

News of the proposal broke on Dec. 13, surprising even D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who was in the midst of negotiating with Leonsis to keep both teams at the Capital One Arena. Youngkin proudly announced the deal onstage at Potomac Yard, flanked by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D), Leonsis, Kelly, Stephanie Landrum of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership and the entire City Council.

But the sudden nature of the deal, as well as a short, three-month public relations campaign by the city and Monumental Sports, had little effect in Richmond. A House of Delegates bill establishing a stadium authority to issue $1.5 billion in taxpayer-funded bonds was stopped in the Senate Appropriations Committee by Sen. Louis Lucas (D-18), and the city left the negotiating table on March 27.

Leonsis has since turned back to D.C., where both teams will likely remain for decades.

The Coalition to Stop the Arena at Potomac Yard loudly protested the project.

“Economic development that benefits all residents of Alexandria and the Commonwealth can only happen with transparent input from the citizens who will be affected,” said Andrew Macdonald, a former Alexandria vice mayor and co-founder of the Coalition. “Backroom deals negotiated in secret and sprung on the citizens at the last minute must not be standard operating procedure in Alexandria or anywhere else ever again.”

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Alexandria City Council candidate Abdel Elnoubi has been making legislative waves recently as a member of the School Board, and says residents should expect the same kind of results if he gets elected.

Elnoubi is one of 11 Democrats running to fill six seats on City Council, including four incumbent Council members running for reelection in the Democratic primary on June 18. The field also includes Jacinta Greene, a fellow School Board Member.

Elnoubi is a freshman politician sworn in virtually during the pandemic in 2021. The last several years meant contending with staffing shortages, learning loss, school safety and budgeting issues. He says that alleviating staffing woes is an important solution for the school system, and consequently added a $4.2 million bonus in the ACPS budget request to the City Council for staff who were excluded from step increases in fiscal year 2021.

That move, and other additions by the School Board, will likely result in a residential tax increase during an election year.

“It’s your decision to decide whether you want to raise taxes or not,” Elnoubi told City Council last month. “If you do that, if you decide to raise taxes, I’m 100% with you.”

Elnoubi, an engineering project manager for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, also made big changes to the ACPS collective bargaining resolution. Most notably, he gained support to eliminate a voting threshold for ACPS staff to establish unions to begin the bargaining process with the school system.

“We just can’t pay our teachers enough, so it’s personal for me,” Elnoubi said. “In my early days at Metro, I was a young engineer making $66,000. I could hardly afford to live in Alexandria. My family was growing. We (at WMATA) got a raise because the union had a new agreement… Not just that, they got us back pay, and that made a significant change in my life. It made me feel more financially secure. Now all of a sudden I have extra money for savings, I’m making a little bit more money with this newborn that I just had. So, I saw firsthand the impact of being part of a union and having a collective bargaining agreement.”

Elnoubi lives in the Landmark area with his wife and two children.

Early on in his School Board tenure, Elnoubi said he wouldn’t be a “rubber stamp” for former ACPS Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr., and frequently went against established Board practices by speaking with the press.

“I believe in transparency, and I made it a point to be accessible to the press,” he said. “Because I came to this country for Democracy, for opportunity, for the things that make this country great, that we can hold government accountable.”

Born in Chicago, Elnoubi lived in Falls Church until he was eight years old, and then moved with his family to Alexandria, Egypt. He says his return to America and political aspirations in Alexandria, Virginia, makes for a literal “Tale Of Two Cities,” where quality of life issues stand in stark contrast.

“The police there (in Egypt) don’t work for the people,” Elnoubi said. “They’re an instrument of the regime to crush dissent… Education is totally underfunded, especially public schools. Teachers are paid very badly and can’t afford basic life necessities.”

At 21, Elnoubi returned to the U.S. after three years of college in Egypt and transferred to the City College of New York, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in mechanical engineering. He later earned a Master’s in engineering management from George Washington University, and moved to the city in 2012. Prior to his election in 2021, he was also the president of the PTA at Samuel W. Tucker Elementary School and was a member of the city’s Community Criminal Justice Board and the Building Code Board of Appeals.

Elnoubi is Muslim and says he was inspired to run for office after former President Donald Trump was elected and signed an executive order initiating a travel ban to seven Muslim countries.

“My kids know no other country but the U.S., and I didn’t want them growing up in their own country feeling they do not belong or were being discriminated against,” Elnoubi said. “I started talking to people, and they advised me to join the Democratic Committee, to become a grassroots activist, to get involved more than I was. I did.”

He continued, “We can’t take this Democracy for granted. I’ve seen what happens when you don’t have Democracy. Corruption, bad quality of life, you can’t hold government accountable, you’re risking your life just by speaking up. And now I’m like, oh my God, could that happen here? And guess what? We found the answer four years later. It almost happened. You almost had a coup four years later.”

Elnoubi says that he’s a goal-oriented engineer, setting achievable benchmarks and closely measuring progress with data. He said that the failed Potomac Yard arena deal lacked safeguards to shield Alexandria residents from hundreds of millions of dollars in financial liabilities “in the event of unrealized projections.”

“The deal neglected the needs of our commuters posing adverse implications through the anticipated surge in traffic, compounded by insufficient state funding allocated for essential public transportation enhancements aimed at mitigating such concerns,” Elnoubi said. “The deal’s environment details were lacking. The deal failed to prioritize the welfare of our workforce with lack of sufficient labor protections and commitments to uphold union standards.”

On affordable housing, he said that he will use “zoning and permitting regulations, tax incentives, and partnerships” to allow residents of all income levels to live in the city.

Elnoubi admits that he’s got his work cut out for him in this primary election. He also says that his experience on the Board sets him apart.

“I’ve seen how hard the work is, how much effort and dedication it takes,” he said. “I love to roll up my sleeves and get involved.”

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Sur La Table is reopening at 326 King Street. (staff photo by James Cullum)

It’s not uncommon to hear business owners in Alexandria lament that local sign ordinances can be onerous and unwieldy, but an update to an ordinance could be a sign that things are changing.

Eight years after the last update to the sign ordinance, the City of Alexandria is taking another crack at it.

The new sign ordinance update aims to improve the organization, clarity and consistency of how the city handles signage, as well as offering a little more regulatory flexibility.

Notably, digital signs and A-frame signs are currently prohibited unless approved by a special use permit, like the sign at The Birchmere.

For digital signs, city staff said at a meeting yesterday (Monday) that the city should consider things like aesthetics and safety in considering whether or not to allow digital signs, but also that “they’re able to communicate more information than the typical changeable copy signs.”

Regulatory limitations being considered include:

  • No effects, flashing or moving of individual images
  • Frequency image on screen can change
  • If freestanding, required to be a monument sign

Staff also said A-frame signs in the public right of way have also been a topic of discussion from businesses.

The current zoning ordinance does not allow A-frames in the public right of way, but the city could also consider issues of clutter, safety and accessibility in determining whether or not they should be allowed.

Some regulatory limitations proposed for A-frame signs include:

  • Clearly defined pedestrian walkways
  • Maximum distance from storefront
  • Display hours
  • Quality of materials
  • Liability insurance

Lastly, staff said painted wall signs and murals have also been discussed. Painted murals currently count against wall signage allotment, but that could change.

Staff said the murals create and aesthetic benefit — highlighting artwork at local yarn store fibre space as an example of beautifully done artwork contributing to the neighborhood — but there are concerns about legal issues around regulating the content of what can be painted.

Staff said there could be restrictions on what buildings can be painted — always a guaranteed brawl at the Board of Architectural Review — and a limit set on the maximum size of the mural.

The Planning Commission is scheduled to hold a work session on the sign ordinance update on Thursday, April 4, at 7 p.m.

Another community meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 29, at 6 p.m. in City Hall, then the ordinance will go to the Planning Commission and City Council for public hearings in June.

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The proposed scoreboard at the Kelley Cares Miracle Field outside the Nannie J. Lee Memorial Recreation Center at 1108 Jefferson Street (via City of Alexandria)

A local nonprofit is donating a $50,000 scoreboard at the Kelley Cares Miracle Field outside the Nannie J. Lee Memorial Recreation Center in Old Town.

The scoreboard is a gift to the city from the Miracle League of Alexandria and it will be presented to City Council for approval on April 2. Additionally, the $3,000 installation for the scoreboard’s support beams is being donated by the Simpson Development Company.

MLA built the synthetic baseball diamond in partnership with the Kelley Cares Foundation in 2012. The field is next to the Ruthanne Lodato Memorial Playground for people with special needs.

Kelley Cares Miracle Field is named in honor of Kelley Swanson, a T.C. Williams High School student who died after a graduation trip in 2005.

The scoreboard was paid for by Sheri and Mark Jessell in honor of their 18-year-old son, Dan, who loved baseball and died in 2018, and Sheri Jessell’s sister, Loey Seligman, who died in 2020.

“The scoreboard will enhance the experience for players in the Miracle League, as well as for others who use the field,” MLA Board Chair Mac Slover wrote in a letter to the city. “The scoreboard will be installed beyond the right field fence and will be 10-feet-wide and 16-feet-tall. It will be raised another six feet so that it can be above the sightlines of the existing fence.”

The Jessell family lives in Florida and were inspired to donate to the Alexandria nonprofit after seeing an MLA video. At first, MLA received a $50 donation from the Jessell family in last year’s Spring2ACTion fundraiser, and after corresponding with the family, Slover was informed months later that the family wanted to make a substantial donation.

“In 2020, we had done a video about how much we missed our players because of Covid, and it brought her (Sheri Jessell) to tears,” Slover said. “She and her family wanted to donate $50,000, and we were able to get the scoreboard, which has been a dream of mine since we built the field in 2012.”

Slover wants to install the scoreboard in August and dedicate it in early September.

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House of money (photo via Kostiantyn Li on Unsplash)

Alexandria City Manager Jim Parajon is asking City Council to increase penalties for late personal property tax payments.

The news comes as City Council considers a real estate tax increase to fund a significant budget request from the Alexandria School Board.

Parajon wants to increase the late payment penalty from a flat rate of 10% to “a rate of 10% if paid within 30 days 20 after the due date, and 25% if paid more than 30 days after the due date,” according to the proposal that Council will receive on Tuesday, April 2.

The city’s personal property tax rate is $5.33 per $100 of the assessed value of  vehicles, and $3.55 for vehicles retrofitted to accommodate disabled drivers.

The following residents can get an exemption on personal property taxes:

  • Active-duty U.S. military personnel and their spouses
  • Antique car owners
  • Member of Congress and their spouses
  • Foreign diplomats
  • Disabled U.S. military veterans

Personal property tax bills are mailed in the summer and payments are due Oct. 5.

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Alexandria City Council candidate Jonathan Huskey of Del Ray (courtesy photo)

Jonathan Huskey’s campaign to be a member of Alexandria’s City Council is centered around his opposition to the Potomac Yard arena development.

Huskey says that the city government failed residents with last December’s surprise announcement that Monumental Sports & Entertainment reached a deal with Governor Glenn Youngkin to move the home of the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals from D.C. to Alexandria’s Potomac Yard neighborhood.

“Certainly the governor is the main backer of this idea, but our Council and our mayor deserve to be in the storyline here,” Huskey said. “They are major players in the way that this has gone down, and in the way that there has been a lack of transparency.”

The $2 billion arena is currently at an impasse within the Virginia General Assembly, where Senate Democrats led by Sen. Louise Lucas (D-18) refused to include it in the state budget. Local legislators contend that Youngkin hasn’t negotiated with Democrats on the issue, and Huskey says the deal highlights a lack of transparency and accountability in the deal-making process.

“I’m stepping up to say we’ve got to have this debate in public,” Huskey said. “We’ve got to talk about it.”

Huskey says that the city did not adequately prepare, consult or provide residents with rationale for the project.

“That has really soured this in the eyes of our city, the legislature, the region,” he said. “So, I’m running because this cannot happen again, and we can’t be divided by a Council cutting deals with billionaires before they talk to their own constituents or the people who live within eyeshot of this thing.”

Huskey is the communications director at the State Revenue Alliance and lives with his wife and two children in Warwick Village, which is next door to Del Ray and near Potomac Yard. A native of Salina, Kansas, he has a degree in political science and government from the University of Kansas and has lived in Alexandria for 12 years.

“I know I’ve got a lot to learn about some of the various city departments, but I am certainly not a novice,” he said. “I am a policy professional. I know local and state government, how it works, and how to get things done. I think I’ll be ready to govern on day one and I’m going to embark on a lot of meetings with the police department and parks department and city boards to get an understanding where they’re coming from so I’ll be knowledgeable come the start of my tenure on council.”

He’s also never served on a city board or commission, and says he never found issue with City Council’s handling of large development deals until the arena plan surfaced. Since then he’s been a vocal member of the Coalition to Stop the Potomac Yard Arena.

“I have generally been supportive of this council and mayor’s decisions on development,” Huskey said. “I’ve not been an activist around any of the other debates that have happened around development, but this one is different for me.”

Huskey said that he started to consider a Council run last month when there were not more anti-arena candidates on the ballot. Currently, Charlotte Scherer is only other vocal anti-arena candidate running for Council, as are mayoral candidates Vice Mayor Amy Jackson and Steven Peterson.

“It’s not personal,” Huskey said. “I’m not upset at anybody in any personal way, but I do think this was a big boo-boo by the City Council and that it does show that there is some change that needs to happen at City Hall.”

Huskey is in favor of creating a ward system for City Council, and says that the city should get independent studies on major development proposals. By the end of his term, if elected, he says that Council should lobby Richmond for a more “progressive” tax structure that provides more revenue for schools.

“I can be part of the solution where we can actually fund the things that we need without deals like the Potomac Yard arena,” Huskey said.

Huskey also questions revenue projections for the project, and says that Youngkin made the deal because of the fiscal cliff the state faces with federal Covid relief funds drying up next year. He said that City Council made a choice to latch onto the project to solve its financial woes.

“They made a choice to latch onto this project built by a Republican governor and a billionaire who wants to move a team four miles for what?” Huskey said, adding that Monumental owner Ted Leonsis had an opportunity to get a “mini city” built by taxpayers. “Nobody asked for it.”

Huskey continued, “I fundamentally also think that is morally wrong, that they would even entertain such a thing. It is unjust to seek billions in public financing for a billionaire who has access to all of the money that would be needed to build that stadium and the facilities around it. He can pay for this thing if he felt like he needed to. And that has never been properly vetted through this council and it should have been.”

Huskey does not have a campaign manager, and said that he will likely take vacation from his job to run for Council.

“I plan to hit the ground running,” he said. “I have a plan to do that. I’m going to run a credible, hard campaign and hopefully we’ll see on June 18 that I get enough votes to be in the top six.”

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Alexandria Interim Police Chief Raul Pedroso (via City of Alexandria)

Alexandria’s Interim Police Chief Raul Pedroso has been on the job a little more than a month, and tells ALXnow that he wants the permanent position.

Pedroso was hired as an assistant police chief last October, and took the reins of the Alexandria Police Department last month after the retirement of former Chief Don Hayes.

“I’m interested in being the chief of police for the City of Alexandria,” Pedroso said. “I’ve worked my whole career to get myself ready for a position and opportunity like this. But at the end of day, I’m here to work, and so I’m going to work today, I’m going to work tomorrow, I’m going to work every day as long as I’m in this position.”

While the city begins its planning for a national search to permanently fill the position, Pedroso says that he’s been directed by City Manager Jim Parajon to keep moving the department forward without limitations on his interim authority.

“The direction has been simple,” Pedroso said. “Do whatever that we need to do to keep the department moving forward.”

Pedroso has inherited a city experiencing a crime surge, with dramatic increases in gun-related incidents, as well as a department that suffered diversity and morale issues under his predecessor.

“To me, we’re in a great position here,” Pedroso said. “We have all the elements of what is a great organization to be a part of. You’ve got great men and women in the agency, you’ve got a proud tradition, which is good for a police department. You have a very supportive community, and a very supportive elected body and administration.”

Pedroso also said that he doesn’t envision making any major changes to the organizational structure of the department with three assistant police chiefs.

“The focus for me is delivering the best in service and making the greatest impact for the people that live here and visit here,” he said. “You’re gonna get caught if you come to Alexandria and commit crime.”

Pedroso was previously a major in the Coral Gables Police Department, where he worked his way up the ranks for 30 years. He speaks fluent Spanish, attended the FBI National Academy and has a master’s of science degree in criminal justice from Florida International University and a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Florida, according to his LinkedIn page.

Pedroso left Coral Gables for Alexandria because he was facing mandatory retirement, he said.

“I wanted to keep working,” he said. “I felt I had more to give, and so when I was about 18 months out is when I decided I’m going to start to really work hard at finding that next opportunity.”

A Florida native, he says he was inspired to pursue a career in law enforcement while working as a loss prevention officer as studied for a Bachelor’s degree in business at the University of Florida in Gainesville.

“My intent was to go into business,” Pedroso said.

But after helping a detective bust a sheriff’s deputy who was shoplifting and making fraudulent refunds in uniform, Pedroso went on a police ride-along and was hooked.

“I went on that ride along and it changed my life,” he said. “I knew what I wanted to do and I went full-force.”

Former Alexandria Sheriff Dana Lawhorne said that Parajon made a good decision promoting Pedroso.

“I have spent  time getting to know Chief Pedroso over the last four months,” Lawhorne said. “I am impressed by what I have heard and seen so far. He is taking measures to address the crime problem, improving morale, and engaging the community. I trust his leadership abilities, decision making, and vision.”

Pedroso describes his leadership style as “authentic.”

“I am who I am,” he said. “The person who is talking with you now is the person that’s going to talk in a meeting with our command staff. It’s who’s going to be out there with their officers on the street, or with the community or at home. I’m real.”

Pedroso continued, “My style is I am empathetic. I understand. I did this job for a long time. I don’t forget where I came from. I don’t forget what it is to be a police officer riding a beat in a police car at three o’clock in the morning and the challenges that come with that job. It’s a very difficult job. It’s incredibly rewarding, but comes with a lot of challenges. I’ve never forgotten that.”

Pedroso says his priorities are ensuring proper resources and training for officers, as well as staying connected with the community.

“We don’t have all the answers in here,” he said. “The answers are all around us. By having those interactions, by building that trust, developing that relationship, we’re getting a lot of great ideas when it comes to how we should be out there policing our community.”

Pedroso says that he hasn’t been keeping track of the hours he’s putting in as interim chief.

“There are a lot of hours and they’re long hours, but that’s okay,” he said. “This opportunity is one that I don’t take lightly, and it’s one that for every minute that I am in this position, or any position involved with leadership and public safety, I’m gonna give it my all.”

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Imagine opening the French doors of your portable home at whatever backdrop you desire. The possibilities of portable architecture are the latest obsession of Alexandria furniture designer Daniel Donnelly.

Donnelly’s asking for an after-the-fact special use permit approval for three large taupe-colored Marine shipping containers at the entrance to his workshop at 80 S. Early Street. The modern furniture design business is located an industrial area of the city near police headquarters, and the open-sided containers were installed during the pandemic as a showroom for prospective customers.

Donnelly hasn’t sold any yet, but says the shipping containers — one 40-by-8-feet-long and two 20-by-8-foot containers — are now integral to his business. They cost him upward of $30,000 apiece, completely empty, and he says they are convenient for creating “portable architecture.” The containers are also water-tight when locked up, and are currently full of modern furniture.

“All you have to do is haul it on a tractor trailer and take it wherever you want,” Donnelly said of the shipping containers. “We’re adding beautiful treatments to them, like heating and flooring. They’re fully insulated with an eco-sustainably harvested plywood.”

Donnelly has been in business in the city since 1986, and with a small staff has created the furniture for a number of Hollywood hits, like in Richard Gere’s office in “Runaway Bride” and Steve Martin’s desk in “The Spanish Prisoner.” He also credits his firm for creating the furniture in Saturday Night Live‘s green room, as well as the furniture in Seth Meyers’ personal office.

“I did the furniture in his office,” Donnelly said. “When he opens up his desk drawer he can see my name.”

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