Following suggestions expressed at public hearings that a new AlexRenew Field on Eisenhower Avenue be developed as a substitute for the lights and expansion at T.C. Williams’ High School’s Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium, Alexandria city staff analyzed the suggestion and reported back to City Council with a resounding no.
“This field is not a viable option for high school football events,” said Karl Moritz, director of Planning and Zoning.
Moritz explained at an April 14 City Council meeting that the field is being constructed over top of a sewage treatment facility and is elevated above ground on three sides. In addition to causing any additional features to have to be free standing at a matching elevation, the field’s structure would be unable to support additional weight, meaning any structures would have to also include their own supports.
According to Moritz, hosting high school football games at the field on Eisenhower Avenue would mean adding a press box, bleachers, locker rooms, a sound system, goal posts, and other structures. The only feature available at the AlexRenew Field currently unavailable at Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium is nighttime lighting, which city staff says they were unable to confirm would be sufficient for nighttime football games.
For Councilman John Chapman, the lack of bleachers and seating was more than a reason the field would be insufficient as an alternative to Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium, it was a concern about any field.
“I’m challenged by the fact that there’s no seating there,” said Chapman. “When we build fields, we should plan to have people there.”
James Spengler, director of Recreation, Parks, and Cultural Activities, said that most of the fields around Alexandria do not have bleachers, and that parents predominantly bring their own lawn chairs. Spengler said the city can provide light-weight aluminum bleachers, but that the Parks Department has not seen a demand.
“Expanding use of this facility is not viable,” Moritz reiterated. “This site is extraordinarily constrained. We would have to put structure on stilts adjacent to the site but not on the tank.”
Moritz said that he did not have an exact cost estimate, but said city staff believed it would reach into several millions of dollars.
While Parker-Gray Memorial Stadium has access to 400 parking spaces at T.C. Williams, Moritz also noted that the site would only have 35 available parking spaces at the site with another 38 spaces available on adjacent public streets. There would also be no space available at the site for bus parking.
“Parking makes this impossible,” said Councilwoman Del Pepper, expressing concerns that having only 73 parking spaces would mean parents have no choice but to drop their students off at the facility and leave. “At first, this looked like a possible solution, but the way you’ve presented this there’s just no room here.”
Size limitations in the area also meant that the field would have a sharp cut-off at the football field end-zones.
“You could play a football game here,” said Spengler, “but you’d need to be careful with field goals and extra points, because it’s going to go off the roof.”
Any changes to the field would also have to be approved by the Alexandria Renew Enterprises (AlexRenew), which owns the property. While Moritz says the city has not officially reached out to the AlexRenew about the potential expansion of the field, he said the property owners had expressed deep reservations about the proposal.
Mayor William Euille dismissed the idea of a public hearing on the proposal.
“We don’t want to have a public hearing where we mislead people and [they] think there’s viability here,” said Euille. “This is not being looked at as an alternative for T.C. Williams’ [sports].”
William Goff, who had initially proposed the concept, said he was disappointed with the council's decision. Goff believed parking could be made available at the nearby Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) parking garage. In the hallway after the decision, Moritz told Goff that he wasn’t as confident that the city would be able to use those spaces, particularly with the PTO being a 24-hour office.
Kathy Harkness also expressed disappointment with the Council’s decision. Harkness says the AlexRenew field isn’t intended to be a permanent alternative to the Parker-Gray Memorial Field, just a stopgap while the city considers other alternatives.