I propose an interim plan for Fitzgerald Square that differs significantly from the two “schemes” city staff has proposed. Specifically, this plan will (1) maximize the use of the existing facilities at the Fitzgerald Square location, (2) meet pressing parking needs in the immediate waterfront area, and (3) cost much less than the schemes staff has proposed.
The essence of the plan: Keep the Old Dominion Boat Club (ODBC) building, utilizing it for various public purposes; convert the club parking lot into a public pay lot, with possibly city employees using the lot during the week; retain the boat launch ramp; remove the existing fencing; and construct a continuous promenade on the river side of the property that extends from Waterfront Park to the plaza area in front of the Torpedo Factory. I will now discuss each aspect of this plan.
Utilize the existing building. As an ODBC member, I am quite familiar with the club’s facilities. Although old, the club’s building has been well-maintained. The large room on the ground floor could provide room, for example, for Seaport Foundation activities, such as boat-building, as well as room for the Foundation’s offices. Alternatively, archeological finds related to the waterfront, such as timbers recovered from the Carr hotel excavation, could be displayed in that room. It is important to note that there is a sizeable kitchen on the ground floor, which broadens the range of potential uses for that floor. While there are no bathrooms presently on the ground floor, it would fairly easy to install bathrooms on that floor accessible to the public from outside the building given the kitchen’s water and sewer connections. The ballroom on the second floor could be utilized as public meeting space or rented out for private events, as the club now does. Additionally there is a small, but recently updated and actively utilized kitchen on the second floor, bathrooms, and a separate bar and lounge area with great views of the river. Perhaps a portion of that area could be leased to a food-service operator, which would generate rental income to help cover building operating and maintenance costs.
Retain the parking lot. With the ongoing loss of parking in the waterfront area, due to the elimination of street parking spaces and the forthcoming closure of the parking lot on Strand, and increased parking demand due to additional restaurants in the immediate area, notably the expanded Waterfront Market, there is a desperate need for additional parking in the lower King Street area. Therefore, the existing club parking lot should be retained and converted into a pay lot operated by a contractor in a manner comparable to the existing riverfront lot on Strand Street. The profits from that lot would help to cover the costs of running and maintaining the clubhouse building and park facilities on the site. Perhaps the lot also could be used to provide additional parking during the week for city employees so that they could then stop parking on residential streets.
Retain the launch ramp. Although not widely known, there is a well-used boat launch ramp on the east side of the parking lot. That ramp could be utilized as a place to launch kayaks, rowboats, small sailboats, peddle boats, etc. Perhaps in nice weather there could even be a boat-rental facility there. That ramp also would continue to be available for launching emergency rescue craft and other government boats.
Remove the existing fencing. Removing the existing fencing on the club property would extend the present King Street Park to the area in front of the clubhouse building for very little cost. However, it is important to keep in mind that very secure fencing will have to be installed to keep people off the docks where ODBC members will continue to dock their boats. Unfortunately, that fencing will impede public views of those docks and the river, but installation of that fence is a required element of the club’s forced move to its new location.
Construct a continuous promenade along the river’s edge. It will be quite feasible to construct a continuous promenade along the water’s edge from Waterfront Park to the plaza area in front of the Torpedo Factory. The only challenge in extending the promenade across the parking lot would be providing for an approach to the boat-launch ramp crossing the promenade. However, that would not be a serious challenge as the ODBC has to address a similar challenge at the location of its new clubhouse. Further north, the promenade would run outside the security fence that will keep the public off the ODBC docks. That hardly presents a serious construction challenge, though.
In closing, in this time of seriously constrained city finances, city staff and council should try to maximize the use of existing facilities at the bottom of King Street rather than bulldozing what exists and then discovering that it lacks sufficient funds to build an attractive replacement.
Bert Ely is co-chair of Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront and vice president of the Old Town Civic Association, but this comment is his and not on the behalf of either of those organizations.