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Letter to the Editor: Use Hensley For Robinson?

— The St. James unsolicited proposal to build a sports and entertainment complex where Hensley Park exists today may have been unsolicited, but it was neither a new idea nor one lacking proponents at city hall. In 2005, Alexandrians for an All City Sports Facility approached the city with a similar request to build expansive sports facilities on Hensley Park. Kerry Donley, David Speck, and other community leaders, then and now, promoted this plan. Funding shortfalls stymied this idea, in the end.

A significant problem besides funding still exists. If the city used monies received from the federal government under the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act to acquire or develop Hensley Park, it must remain parkland in perpetuity unless the Secretary of Interior approves of a conversion and replacement lands are substituted. Such a decision will most likely never happen unless commensurate green space is preserved and environmental quality is enhanced.

What to do? It is past time to get creative in this city. There may well be a better option that satisfies all, one that produces dramatically more revenues, displaces density to more suitable settings, and retains and enhances park and recreation space. Let me explain a modest unsolicited amendment to an unsolicited proposal.

In general terms, the idea is relatively simple. First and foremost, require St. James to proffer replacement playing fields within the city; then, use the 40-year lease and expected tax revenues received from St. James to secure commercial funding for purchase of Robinson Terminals, North and South to create replacement open space and promote flood mitigation; redesign the scale and fiscal plans for a completely city owned waterfront allowing mixed use, leased properties with expanded public facilities.

Some specifics:

  • Hensley Park encompasses 642,000 sq.ft. of development space; Robinson Terminals advertise “greater than 600,000 sq/ft of mixed use development space”; the parcels offer similar sites.

  • Hensley Park represents displacement of 12.4 acres of open space; Robinson Terminals represent 6.7 acres of land; replacement ball fields within the city can replace the remaining 5.7 acres shortfall; Department of Interior and citizens will like this!

  • The Chelsea Pier in New York City is cited as the best example of a sports facility similar in size and purpose to the St. James proposal. Estimated NYC tax revenues for Chelsea Pier in 1995 were $11.9M per year - inflation adjusted equal $17M this year; why would we lease to St. James for comparatively less?

  • Hensley Park build out, at minimum density (F.A.R. = 1) produces $4.3 M in real estate tax revenue per year by city tax accounting; a scan of St. James plans shows far greater density along with restaurant, lodging, and retail tax potential; tax and/or lease revenue begins as early as 2015; The most conservative cumulative revenues equal $63M after 15 years; cumulative revenues for the proposed 40-year lease are dramatically greater!

  • The city estimates annual net tax revenues from its Waterfront Plan build out to equal $4.2M at maximum density at the end of 15 years; cumulative revenues would equal $42M at this 15 year point; this revenue stream faces market risk and flooding hazards.

There is certainly more analysis to flesh out such an option, but time is extremely short. We are within weeks of final submission of “last and best” offers from buyers for the two Robinson terminal parcels on the river. Citizen demands for more open space and flood mitigation on the waterfront face impending plans for concreted density. It’s time for City Council to innovate and examine city plans in an integrated manner rather than one parcel of planning at a time. Imagine the possibilities!

Bob Wood

Alexandria