Sports Facility Remains a Hard Sell

Sports Facility Remains a Hard Sell

Residents question purpose and funding.

Continued outspoken opposition to the proposed All City Sports Facility was very much in evidence during the Alexandria Park and Recreation Commission's public hearing last Thursday night at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center. The primary question remained: Where will the non-City funds come from to support estimated the $11.5 million project?

"The private sector has not produced a nickel at this point for this project," said John Howard Eisenhower, office manager, Alexandria Democratic Committee and City resident.

"I think this is the worst conceived project I have ever seen in 40 years of living here. We have a perfectly good stadium at T.C.Williams. Why we need another is a mystery to me," said Alexandria resident Jack Sullivan.

In December 2003, City Council directed the Department of Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities to investigate potential City-owned locations for the project. Of four sites evaluated, they settled on Joseph Hensley Park at 4200 Eisenhower Ave.

Originally, the cost of the overall project was pegged at approximately $17 million, which included an eight-lane track. However, that was removed from the plan when it was discovered that a 36 inch sewer line bisected the site raising fears that in the event of a line rupture the track would have to excavated.

With removal of the track the estimated price tag came down to the now $11.5 million total. Of that amount the City is projected to appropriate $5 million. The remaining $6.5 million is to come from private funds.

During the Commission's January 25 meeting representatives of the Alexandria architectural firm, Rhodeside & Harwell, which has been retained by Parks and Recreation to design the proposed facility, presented their concepts to the commission and the 30 plus residents in attendance. As stated by Commission Chair Judy Guse-Noritake at the outset, "This presentation will only go up to the construction documents."

Included in the suggested design are: A full size multi-use 360 feet by 210 feet playing field with 2,200 fixed bleacher-style seats plus an additional 800 flexible seats; two ball fields, one for baseball and one for softball; parking for 142 vehicles; shuttle bus drop off site; a series of locker rooms, rest rooms, and storage facilities; concession stand area; and a full size/equipped press box.

"We studied a number of different similar stadiums nationwide to arrive at this proposed design," said Elliott Rhodeside, co-owner, Rhodeside & Harwell.

"This is an important facility for the City. It should represent the City. It can be fun and bright. It does not reflect Old Town," Rhodeside said.

"[The plan is] basically a landscape scheme with a stadium incorporated. This building will be an important selling point for the City since it will be very visible from the Beltway," he said.

The site is located just east of the Capital Beltway Eisenhower Interchange.

ONE OF THE PRIME OBJECTIONS by those opposed was the inclusion of the stadium press box. "We don't need a press box. We are not going to get the New Orleans Saints here," Sullivan said.

"This is primarily for kids, not for pros," said Annabelle Fisher, citizen activist.

"Why are you not coordinating with other departments? The children population of Alexandria is declining and will continue to do so in the years ahead. Your charge (from Council) for this needs to be clarified. This is not going to be part of the budget for the next year. The money is not there," Fisher told Commission members.

"I don't believe this was ever intended for only children. Our adult sports population is growing. We merely hold these hearing and then report to City Council. They charged us with coming up with a design and that's what we are doing. We are not going to say to them to go ahead at any cost," Noritake said.

THOSE IN favor of the facility made suggestions for certain design changes and various additions they would like to see incorporated. Several of them agreed with Noritake's assessment that there was an increasing need for a sports facility to serve both youth and adults. "We have an absolute need for multi-use fields," said Bill Rivers.

The need for additional adult facilities was buttressed by Roger Blakeley, deputy director, Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities. "There is a possibility T.C. could use the baseball field. But, we have a growing softball league in the City and don't have enough fields for them now. This site will primarily serve adults from 6 p.m. on. And, with synthetic turf it can be used year round," Blakeley said.

Due to the fact this was only a presentation of preliminary design concepts, no action was taken by the Commission.

However, Noritake did state,"I for one think this is an excellent design at this stage of development."