To the Editor:
It is time for the closing arguments for and against the City Waterfront Plan. Although I don’t believe that supporters of the plan have made a compelling argument why we must use the three development sites on the historic Alexandria Waterfront to generate revenue, especially when all that tax revenue will go back into the waterfront and won’t contribute to the general tax base for 25 to 30 years, I would rather try to make an argument for why we should dig deeper and look for an alternative.
First, the plan hinges on projections and promises, not to be fulfilled for 15 to 30 years. Yes, there has been more talk of doing something right away, but what that is and how it is paid for are still unclear. There are no proffers from the potential developments to guarantee that at the same time we get development we get something in return. The developers of hotels, office and residential on these three remaining developable parcels on the waterfront are not being asked to repair the docks and piers, pay for flood mitigation, or contribute to street-scaping on the Strand or the Unit Block of King. We are giving developers maximum flexibility, and I am not sure what we are getting in return.
So, lets look at an Alternative. If the City were not to up-zone these parcels, and therefore increasing their price, and would consider purchasing them instead, in just a few years we could have additional parkland, the connectivity between parks that we want, and possible locations for a museum, bandshell, and other public amenities that would be long term attractions for residents and visitors.
Instead of every time we have a festival, or the Alexandria Symphony Plays on the Waterfront and the City Pulls up a Trailer, we could have a permanent performance space. Maybe every Friday night there would be a concert on the Waterfront. The city plan increases the value of these three properties, putting any possible purchase or consideration of alternatives further out of reach.
Personally, I am not an opponent of restaurants on the waterfront. I think they would add vibrancy, and enjoyment. I have been a huge advocate for restoring the Beachcomber into a great Waterfront Dining Venue. I think the Alexandria Marine building at the other end of the Strand could be a great café. There is a great opportunity for a new restaurant or market hall in the now closed food court. Behind the food court in the next building, now an office, there is the possibility of a new restaurant. And the Robinson Terminal office at 2 Duke St. I think would be a wonderful public market house as it is where goods were once traded on the waterfront.
But is the only way to get new restaurants to build hotels? I don’t believe it is, and most hotel chains come with their own restaurants, so they will not be local unique restaurants for Alexandria, and 50,000 sq. feet of new restaurant space on these three sites is far too much. There are 32 restaurants at National Harbor, many of them national chains that can undermine local businesses which are the backbone of our community. That is not something that we should re-create here.
I am also greatly concerned with the placement of many things in this plan. It is planned to move the Dandy cruise boat to behind the already crowded docking area behind the Torpedo Factory. The Dandy is a different sort of operation. Instead of a 3.6 million dollar civic building at the foot of Duke, why not take the parking lot across from Chadwicks and create a Port of Alexandria, where the Dandy can dock and other Potomac river cruise boats would be welcome.
I would also welcome putting the Ferry Dock at the foot of King St.
And then why put a marina against the docks at Robinson Terminal south, when this is one of the two places where Tall Ships can dock.
Lets rebuild the bulkhead in windmill hill park and create a marina for residents. Boating and boats should be part of the waterfront, but crowding them into a place where there are other uses is odd, when part of the purpose of the waterfront planning process was to spread activities out along the waterfront. Project for Public Spaces recommends having 10 different activities to create a vibrant waterfront, and if we explore some alternatives to hotels I think we can do it.
So imagine, instead of one thing to do, go to a hotel, that there are many things to do. Think about how many of us make sure when our relatives and friends visit that they see all the sites in Washington. Imagine if there were enough things to do here in Alexandria to make a three day visit memorable. They might start at a Museum that tells the history of West Point, Tobacco, how George Washington kept his boat The Farmer at the wharf there, which was the first wharf in Alexandria. Maybe they go out to the dock to see a replica of George Washington’s Ship. They might also learn about the civil war and railroad history, and how Abe Lincoln’s rail car was built here, and then see a replica of that. From there they could go to the Torpedo Factory, and learn where they could go by water taxi.
They could stop for lunch at the new Beachcomber Restaurant, or if it is warm consider renting a kayak. They could go to the Robinson Terminal Market House, and buy fruits and vegetables, and if possible take a walk down to the Jones Point Lighthouse, all the while enjoying our great ribbon of environmentally innovative parkland. This is the Waterfront I imagine. A waterfront that is only possible if the City plan is rejected.