Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Preserve ODBC Building

Opinion: Letter to the Editor: Preserve ODBC Building

To the Editor:

At the last City Council public hearing, on Dec. 16, I urged the council to preserve the Old Dominion Boat Club building rather than demolish it, as is now planned.

As a Boat Club member, I know that the club’s building has been well-maintained and is well-equipped to provide indoor and outdoor space for various city-sponsored activities and events. It also could be

rented to private groups so as to generate income to more than pay for the operation and maintenance of the building and grounds.

The club’s grounds could easily be melded into Waterfront Park and the open space in front of the Torpedo Factory so that there would be a smooth pedestrian flow along that portion of the waterfront.

The outdoor uses proposed for the interim plan for Fitzgerald Square, the park planned for the end of King Street, could easily be accommodated without having to tear down the building. If anything, retaining the building would enhance those uses. Much-needed restroom facilities, for example, could be built on the building’s ground floor.

One of the saddest aspects of the redevelopment of the Alexandria waterfront has been the extent to which historic buildings have not been preserved. Demolishing the clubhouse building, portions of which are

almost 100 years old, will eliminate one more link to the city’s waterfront history.

I fully appreciate that demolishing the clubhouse building will enhance the river views from Vola’s Dockside Grill and Hi-Tide Lounge, and most likely the profitability of that restaurant, but that is not a good reason to demolish a perfectly usable building.

Although demolition plans are quite advance, it still is not too late to say: Stop! Let’s rethink the wisdom of demolishing a fine, historic building that can readily be repurposed by the city for public use and as a complement to the interim plan for Fitzgerald Square.

If the clubhouse building is torn down, I predict that sometime in the future, and perhaps in the very near future, regrets will emerge about that demolition. If I am still around, I will be among the first to say, I told you so — the building should not have been demolished.

In response to my remarks, Mark Jinks, the city manager, stated that the city’s waterfront plan envisions a major park at the bottom of King Street. That plan included tearing down the ODBC building. Plans, though, are not set in concrete.

As happens quite often, plans change when circumstances change. For example, even though the waterfront plan calls for a hotel at Robinson Terminal North, its current owner has determined that it is not economic to build a hotel there. The waterfront plan must therefore be amended to reflect that reality.

It is not too late to reconsider the demolition of a perfectly fine building that the city can readily repurpose for numerous public uses. Delaying the start of demolition, now scheduled for March, will not cause irreversible harm to the city or the waterfront.

I urged the council to stop, take a breath, suspend plans to demolish the building, and reconsider how it can be utilized until such time as the city is ready to move ahead with constructing a permanent Fitzgerald Square Park.

Bert Ely