A private group that wanted to lease a public park in Alexandria to build the area’s largest athletic complex withdrew its bid Tuesday night after the city discovered restrictions on a portion of the original land purchase.
The state Department of Conservation and Recreation informed the city Tuesday that at least $117,000 in federal Land and Conservation funds were used to help buy 13 acres of Hensley Park, between the Beltway and Eisenhower Avenue in southern Alexandria, in 1977. Those funds prohibited the land from being used for anything other than public outdoor recreation “unless replaced with “reasonably equivalent property,” the city said in a late-night press release.
That caused the St. James Group, which made an unsolicited proposal in June for a 40-year lease that would allow it turn the park into a multimillion-dollar sports and entertainment complex, to withdraw its bid. The principals in the firm said the documents were found in “non-public archives” of the state and hadn’t been discovered during a title search.
The city’s press release said its archived records are open to the public, but are not routinely accessed during title searches.
The St. James Group’s principals, Kendrick F. Ashton Jr. and Craig A.A. Dixon, had proposed building a 600,00-square-foot complex with an Olympic-sized swimming pool, ice skating rinks, an 80,000-square-foot field house, baseball, basketball and volleyball courts, a gymnastics center with rock-climbing walls, a golf club with year-round driving range, tennis and squash courts and more on the property.
The restriction was first raised by residents opposed to the lease of public land to a private entity. The City Council had delayed consideration of the unsolicited bid until its September meeting. The city’s press release said its staff will research whether there are similar restrictions on other park sites.