Right now, the only sign of Arlington’s future recreation epicenter is a sign posted on a rusted chainlink fence, reading, “come play with us.” The nondescript yellow lettering is just the first symbol for what the Arlington County Board has envisioned for years as Long Bridge Park, a state-of-the-art aquatic, health and fitness facility in the heart of Crystal City.
One of the few undeveloped plots of land south of the 14th street bridge overlooking the Potomac River, county officials cleared the final hurdle for their likely $100 million multi-purpose sports facility by agreeing to a land swap with Monument Realty, a Washington, D.C.-based real estate development, leasing and management firm.
Approving the land-use deal by a 4-1 vote on June 24, county officials agreed to transfer seven acres of county-owned land to Monument in exchange for a valuable 5.5-acre sliver at the southern end.
Currently, several warehouses and a rundown motel sit on the much-publicized piece of land, located between Old Jefferson Davis Highway and Roaches Run Water Fowl Sanctuary.
The compromise ends years of heated negotiations between the county and Monument, which had a previous deal in place. With a downturn in the condo market, Monument requested an amendment to the original terms in 2006. A lawsuit was settled after the county initially refused the amendments where the real estate company agreed to contribute $3 million to a community benefit payment.
“It provides the county the ownership of the Twin Bridges site, which allows us to build a recreational building and a swimming fitness center on that premier piece of land,” said Jeff Marin, the county deputy director of parks, recreation and cultural resources. “We feel it creates a much better park for us in the long run. The county has wanted that piece of land for many years, and that final agreement with Monument allows that to happen.”
According to multiple reports, Monument will use its new land on the northern edge of Crystal City to build a projected $250 million mixed-use development that includes 343 residential apartments or condos, office space and possible street-level retail. The 10-year-old company anticipates completing construction in at least two years, though the board still needs to approve the final design.
<b>ARLINGTON COUNTY</b> approved the Long Bridge Park concept in February 2004, five months after it spent nearly $7 million on the first phase of two upgrades to Barcroft Park, the 65.5-acre recreation center in South Arlington.
In 2004, the county began plans for the reclaimed industrial land, and voters approved a $50 million bond for the first phase of construction in the same year.
The complete Long Bridge Park, which will likely take 18 months to complete, will ultimately include an aquatic and fitness center, a multi-purpose activity center for indoor sports and gatherings, four synthetic grass athletic fields — used primarily for soccer, lacrosse and rugby — various walking trails, playgrounds, open lawn areas, a rain garden and picnic tables.
“It’s going to help us with the field space that we’re getting…this is an opportunity for us that’s probably not going to come around again in our lifetime here in Arlington,” said John Blevins, who works for the department of parks, recreation and cultural resources and is a member of the Arlington Sports Commission. “I foresee an increase in the young adult population participating in sports. There’s an unknown demand out there.”
Projected costs for the athletic fields, trails and surface parking for visitors are projected to cost $33 million. But the funding snag may be with the aquatic center, which reportedly could cost up to $50 million, creating a substantial shortfall between committed funds and construction cost.
“That’s the piece that still now needs to be determined,” Marin said. “The county is looking at different options, with the possibility of private funding or partnerships. There’s the possibility of additional public funding.”
Initial projections put the entire cost of the complex at $50 million.
Civic critics have other problems, including the lack of walkways and free public parking, along with the proximity to Reagan National Airport.
Erik Beach, the county project manager for Long View Park, was on vacation and unavailable for comment.
<b>COUNTY OFFICIALS</b> originally named the new park, North Tract, but agreed in late January to rename it Long Bridge Park after an extensive effort, including several committees, a communications firm and two pubic surveys, nominated two names.
“I’m looking forward to breaking ground later this year for Long Bridge Park,” said J. Walter Tejada, Chairman of the Arlington County Board in January.
According to the January press release, the “Long Bridge” was built to bring people from Alexandria to the District of Columbia in 1808. In the War of 1812, the British used the bridge to cross to Alexandria and burn down its port. The Long Bridge has evolved over the years and today it serves as the railroad bridge parallel to the 14th Street Bridge.
The site is one of the few remaining areas of open space in Arlington County.
The National Capital Planning Commission’s 2001 Memorials and Museums Master Plan included the site on a list of about 100 prime museum and memorial sites in the region and called it “an important and highly visible setting.”