Now, as in the past, the 133-year-club won’t give it up without a fight. Once a mainstay of Old Town Alexandria’s establishment — its members included former mayors, legislators and bankers — the club has fought with the city over various issues over the years and says it intends to keep the free parking that comes with the members’ $460 annual dues.
“We were here when no one else was. This is our property,” said Eric DeSoto, chairman of the club’s board of governors. “We have people who live out of town, we have employees, we have events and functions.”
The city, though, says that the parking lot is keeping it from fully realizing a waterfront plan, which passed the City Council 19 months ago. The plan seeks to turn the eight blocks of Old Town’s waterfront into a more lively and accessible stretch of parks, small hotels and retail space.
The redevelopment would also address the area’s long-standing problems with flooding and sewer overflows. The project is imperative, supporters say, both for economic growth and for completing the evolution of the area from a series of loading docks and storehouses into something friendly to the tourists who wander down King Street and find themselves funneled into a narrow city park that’s hemmed in by the boat club and its parking lot.
DeSoto, who said it was the club that restarted negotiations with the city in March, said city officials cut off the talks too soon.
Last week, the club made what its leaders called a major concession: allowing public walkways on the property. One will be built atop a retaining wall along the river, the other is a sidewalk along the street side of the parking lot.
“We’ve consistently said it’s our desire to be good neighbors and good business partners with the city of Alexandria,” DeSoto said. “We’ve looked at every possibility for moving the club. But we’re a boat club. We need to be on the water.”
Mayor William D. Euille (D) called the boat club’s latest offer “a start, but it doesn’t fully address all the points we’ve been discussing for 10 years. . . . It’s nibbling at the edges.” Euille said the city has not barred further negotiations despite its plan for a public hearing next month that will weigh public reaction about whether to go forward with eminent domain.
“I’m hoping between now and Nov. 19, common sense will prevail, and we’ll be able to strike a deal," Euille said. “But every time we talk to them, the goal post keeps shifting.”