Business Matters

Business Matters

Hot and Cold

How about this heat? Like death and taxes, this weekend’s heat wave is an inevitable fact of life. But it’s also an opportunity to make money.

That’s a time-honored lesson from legendary Alexandria businessman John Wise. Back in 1793, the Alexandria Common Council granted Wise permission to build an icehouse underneath the corner of Royal Street and Cameron Street. It must have been a massive capital expense at the time, although it probably made the building now known as Gadsby’s Tavern the most popular place in town on a hot summer day.

Now, that ice well is once again the center of attraction in Old Town. And just in time for triple-digit weather.

“We planned that,” deadpanned Lance Mallamo, director of the Office of Historic Alexandria. “We’ll bring the ice.”

Fortunately, acquiring ice these days is placing an order and waiting for it to show up. In Wise’s day harvesting ice involved cutting large chunks of frozen water from the Potomac River in the dead of winter and hauling it up Cameron Street to store in the ice well, where it was placed under hay. The tavern’s ice well was linked directly to the tavern basement by a vaulted tunnel as well as a small hatch at street level.

“Just in time for the 100-degree weather,” noted Councilwoman Del Pepper.

The groundbreaking on the long-awaited ice well restoration will take place on Sunday at 4 p.m.

Master of the Estate

George Washington is often known as the Father of Our Country. But longtime Mount Vernon Estate president Jim Rees may become known as the Father of How We Think About George Washington.

Since he became president of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association in 1994, Rees has worked to transform how Washington is understood by academics and schoolchildren alike. During his tenure at the historic estate, Rees restored the gristmill, reconstructed the distillery, created a four-acre farm exhibition area and opened a massive new education center where visitors can meet lifelike statues of Washington at three different ages. Now that he has retired, Washington’s adopted hometown is honoring Rees for his decades of service.

“We felt that he had so much to do with the promotion of George Washington that we should honor him and recognize the achievements he has made at Mount Vernon,” said Joe Shumard of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce. “That’s why we are endorsing this proclamation.”

Tuesday night, the Alexandria City Council adopted a proclamation honoring the three decades of work Rees put into making the Mount Vernon Estate what it is today. From a business perspective, Rees raised more than a quarter billion dollars for projects, and he increased Mount Vernon’s endowment from $4 million to $125 million.

“He preserved a national treasure,” said Bernie Schultz, chairman of the Historic Alexandria Resources Commission.

Dismal Science

The most recent financial report shows a 4.5 percent unemployment rate in the city. That’s compared to 5.6 percent in Virginia and 8.1 percent in the United States.

And new residential construction permits in Alexandria have increased 179 percent compared to last year, spiking from 62 last year to 173 this year. Unfortunately, residential investment as a percent of gross domestic product is still near record lows at 2.4 percent.

“In previous post-war recessions, residential investment bounced back quickly, typically within one quarter,” wrote City Manager Rashad Young in the most recent monthly financial report. “But this time due to the excess supply of existing vacant housing units, residential investment has dragged for 11 quarters.”