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The Berg Morphs Into Chatham Square

Official groundbreaking held Wednesday.

The long awaited reconstruction of Samuel Madden Homes (Downtown) is officially underway.

Wednesday morning, representatives of the Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA), city government, the chosen developer, Eakin/Youngentob, and 100-plus others crowded into a rain-soaked tent to participate in the ceremonial groundbreaking. That began the metamorphosis of The Berg to Chatham Square.

After more than a decade of false starts, acrimonious infighting, bureaucratic roadblocks and a near, last minute, derailment by a lawsuit against the U.S.Department of Housing and Urban Development by the Alexandria Residents Council, a World War II ugly duckling is about to blossom into a 21st century swan.

Although giant earth movers have been clawing and digging at the soil between North Pitt and North Royal streets for nearly two months, Wednesday's event was not just a symbolic occurrence, it was proof positive that perseverance and determination will win out in the long run. And, it has been a long run.

Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille, a former resident of The Berg in his youth, best summarized the event as "both an exciting and sad day" for some. "The sad part is that a great deal of my first 22 years, which I spent living here in public housing, is now gone. And so is my pet gold fish, Nemo, which I buried in my backyard when he died," he added with an impish smile.

"The great part of today is that we are providing hope for a large part of this community. This is all about pride in Alexandria and the residents who live here." He was given a standing ovation.

EUILLE AND OTHERS recognized Shawn McLaughlin who, as Chairman of ARHA, first announced plans to redevelop SMH in the spring of 1992. "He did it standing just about where we are holding this ceremony today," said A. Melvin Miller, present ARHA chairman.

"But today I want to also acknowledge the unsung heros of this process — the former residents of this two square block area. They have suffered through it all while keeping their faith in us," Miller said.

U.S. Rep. James Moran (D-8), a former Alexandria mayor, emphasized, "This area [when redeveloped] is going to produce a whole lot of revenue. But revenue is not what it is about. It's about people.

"These new townhomes represent only a part of Alexandria. This city has a place for everyone. Let us resolve never to forget our history."

In kicking off the ceremonies, William Dearman, executive director, ARHA, paid a special tribute to the late Thomas "Pete" Jones, long- time ARC president and representative on the ARHA Board of Commissioners. He praised all those who had worked for the project over the years as well as the current ARHA Board, staff, and members of city government. "This whole process was a total team effort," Dearman said.

Dearman also made a pitch for those present to support ARHA's scholarship fund as he displayed bricks from the now demolished residences with a brass plaque attached. Each donor will receive a brick as a keepsake. The money is used to provide $1,000 scholarship monies to public housing college students.

ROUNDING OUT the speakers were Robert Youngentob, president, Eakin/Youngentob, and David Jeffers, director, NVA Partnership, Fannie Mae. Among those in attendance where members of ARHA's Board, City Council, city staff, ARHA staff, and a variety of other dignitaries and past city elected officials. Following presentations there was the traditional shovels to the earth ceremony.

Once described by an ARHA's legal counsel as "one of the most complicated deals we have ever had," the final product will, hopefully, be "a model for the nation" in redevelopment and mixed-income community development. In addition to ARHA, EYA, and the city other parties to building, financing, and management of Chatham Square are Mid City Urban and Assisted Units Owner Equity.

Mid City Urban is the largest local Hope VI developer with projects nationwide. AUOE pertains to the "low income tax credit application." Both are integral parts of the project's overall financing.

In addition to SMH, there are three off site locations which are part of the overall project. They are 423 Reynolds Street, 1706 West Braddock Road, and 325 South Whiting Street, and will ultimately account for 48 units of replacement public housing.

Bounded by Pitt, Royal, Pendleton, and Princess streets, Chatham Square will include 25 percent open space and adhere to all requirements spelled out in both the Old Town North Design Guidelines and Old Town North Area Plan, EYA has assured.

UPON COMPLETION, it will contain 152 townhouse-style units. One hundred of those will be market rate units, projected to sell in the $500,000 bracket. The remaining will be ARHA assisted units.

With all units looking alike, there will be five ARHA unit options in eight multi-level buildings of 10 units each, according to EYA plans. An underground parking garage for each building will be accessed from an internal street. These units will be evenly divided between two and three bedrooms with 24 having private yards.

Market units will be three and four level townhouses each with an incorporated two-car garage. These will open onto the same internal access street. All market units will be sold with a fee simple title, EYA specified. Dispersed within these will be the other four ARHA units.

"All the units will look alike. They will blend together. Each is designed to look like an individual townhome from the outside. They will all have a wood frame with a brick veneer," EYA explained.

Other EYA projects in Alexandria include Rivergate, Ford's Landing, and The Lofts.