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Making King Street More Viable

Task force studying ways to revitalize businesses and to attract customers.

Merchants along Alexandria’s King Street corridor were hit hard by the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Some have recovered better than others. A new task force will study King Street retail and make recommendations about improving commerce on the thoroughfare.

The group met for the first time in mid-November and responded to a market study.

“Old Town is the heart and soul of Alexandria,” said Eileen Fogarty, the city’s director of planning and zoning. “It is key socially, economically and culturally to the city. Great changes are occurring in the Capital region. While Alexandria is drawing patrons from all corners of the region, it is also true that our customers are being drawn to other retail restaurants and venues in other parts of the region…”

The study area covered King Street from Diagonal Road to the Potomac, 1.1 miles and the retail located along Cameron Street between N. Fairfax and N. Pitt streets. The purpose was to identify the market potential; the community’s desires and needs; the business community’s desires and needs; existing uses; patterns of uses; commercial/retail trends; retail/operational hours; competition and general clientele along the length of King Street.

“We divided King Street into six distinctive districts,” Fogarty said. “They ranged from the businesses on the waterfront that largely rely on tourism to the retail district at the upper end of the street that rely on local walk-in trade.”

Data gathered shows that the businesses on the waterfront were hurt more by Sept. 11, than were the businesses on the upper end of King Street. “We have to find a way to market the businesses on the waterfront to more local trade,” Fogarty said.

THE GOAL OF the process is to develop a vision for King Street and an implementation plan that will be presented to the Planning Commission and later to City Council. “That vision will be developed with a great deal of input from the merchants, affected civic associations and general members of the community,” Fogarty said. Those in attendance at the first workshop agree that there are many challenges to revitalizing King Street. “Old Town has good buildings and restaurants but lacks entertainment,” observed one participant.

“King Street is not as diversified as the competition — Clarendon [in Arlington], Reston Town Center, etc,” observed another participant.

Participants agreed that, however, there are many opportunities. “We need to capitalize on the nearly 8,000 employees at the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office, maybe by having a shuttle that would bring them to Old Town,” said one merchant.

All agreed that to make King Street a successful retail zone, there will be a need to focus not only on retail issues but on transportation, parking and pedestrian access.

“We have a great deal of work ahead but this is an exciting process and we are all looking forward to the challenges,” Fogarty said.