To the Editor:
It is disappointing and concerning to see some residents of this City, much less our Parks and Recreation Commission (“PRC”), so quickly leap to criticize the sports complex proposed by the St. James Group (“SJG”). I have no idea whether a suitable financial agreement can be structured but would suggest that it is more than premature and a disservice to this community for people to already be calling the game over. There are a variety of salient questions to be addressed and I can only assume PRC is taking its position without having any of the answers.
What precisely is the financial deal that some people seem so quick to reject?
People reasonably express concern about the loss of the existing open fields. Has anyone looked for alternative locations where these might be replicated? Might those be funded by an upfront fee or continuing (lease) payments to be paid by SJG? Could we convert one or more turf fields to synthetic fields which I understand results in roughly 2½ times the usage?
The statements of some would imply that outdoor recreation is far more desirable than indoor recreation. Is that the position of the PRC? How many people currently use the Hensley fields on an annual basis? How does that compare with the number who might use the proposed sports facilities on an annual basis?
Claims are made or insinuated that this will be a facility only for the well-to-do. On what basis is that assertion made? Presumably one would have to know what the agreement between SJG and the City is in order to draw any such conclusion. Do we know how much SJG would lease the site for and how the City would intend to use that money? Do we know how much “free time” or discounted time would be provided to local individuals and local teams? How does that compare with options, availability and charges levied now – including those paid by people forced to leave the City to find the amenities they seek?
What plans does the PRC have to deliver such recreational amenities to the residents of Alexandria? We’ve long heard about a Natatorium but we are apparently still about $23 million short of the necessary funding. Could SJG not provide the amenities we seek (in a far more timely manner?) and save the City $23 million? Does the PRC have an ice rink in its plans? Squash courts? Indoor tennis courts? A 2-acre field house? Numerous new basketball and volleyball courts? All with adjacent childcare and development facilities? Does the PRC speak for the general public in apparently suggesting this trade-off is hardly worth considering and essentially a sell out to private developers? Do some PRC members perceive their primary charge as being “to protect open space” with “recreation” only a distant consideration?
No, we aren’t “growing more land” but, by the same token, it’s not as though we don’t have a long-standing and continuing major shortage of recreational amenities – amenities that are for the public benefit and contribute to the physical health of our residents. Yes, it would be a change of use but perhaps it would be to the ultimate advantage of the community? Hopefully people will consider that with an open mind. Leadership is about making informed, studied choices serving the best interests of the community as a whole.
No doubt SJG could pursue a private endeavor but the City and residents would then receive only what we pay for and that certainly won’t come cheap if the cost of 15 acres is added to the investment SJG is already proposing. There would be no reason to give Alexandria residents or teams any preference(s). On the other hand, the City could presumably receive a very significant annual lease payment (and/or subsidized and/or free use of amenities) were we prepared to save SJG the appreciable cost of purchasing a site. The City is certainly not compelled to pursue any discussion with SJG but why would we not at least explore the possibility of forging a win/win relationship?
This deserves to be a matter driven by a far broader community than that seemingly represented by the PRC at this point. Hopefully our elected officials will take note.
Donald N. Buch