Former Lorton prison site is approved for mixed-use project

By Derek Kravitz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 11, 2010; 5:16 PM

Fairfax County approved plans Tuesday to redevelop a former prison site in Lorton into a mixed-use complex with single-family homes, retail shops and offices but still faces a multimillion dollar shortfall to pay for the ambitious project.

The Lorton penal complex closed in 2001. Fairfax acquired the former District prison site from the federal government in 2002 for about $4.2 million. Since then, the county's Park Authority has built a golf course in one section and, in 2008, a private arts foundation opened the Workhouse Arts Center at the site, complete with galleries, studios, a performing arts building and offices.

The new development, consisting of about 50,000 square feet of office space, 41,400 square feet of retail space and 350 duplexes, single-family homes and affordable housing units and a chapel in what is now called Laurel Hill, is slated to be constructed on most visible portion of the 2,000-acre property -- the land on which the main penitentiary building and looming watchtowers still stand. The watchtowers are expected to be renovated and be made open to the public.

The prison site was purchased in 1910 to house nonviolent and short-term prisoners from the District, after concerns grew about poor conditions in city jails. By the mid-1990s, Lorton became crowded with more than 7,300 inmates.

County officials say a funding gap of $9 million to $13 million still exists to complete the $148 million project with the Alexander Co., a Madison, Wis.-based developer.

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