Alexandria Mayor Charles E. Beatley Jr. and several top-ranking staff members will fly to Chicago next Wednesday in an attempt to convince the managers of the giant Merchandise Mart to make Alexandria the site of their first branch operation, Beatley said yesterday.
The visit of city officials to Chicago follows a recent visit here by two executives of the Merchandise Mart, which is owned by members of the Kennedy family Beatley said city manager Douglas Harman, planning director Engin Artemel, and possibly several city council members will accompany him on the trip.
The affluence of the Washington poplation and the sophistication of its buyers has made the Chicago-based wholesale operation interested "for some time" in opening up a satellite operation in this area, a spokesman said.
"We are now looking for a mid-Atlantic location for an interior design and architect's wholesale showroom," the spokesman said. "We would be selling high quality furniture, fabrics and accessories in the high-price range," he said.
"They (the Mart executives) seemed very excited at the idea of taking over the abandoned Parker-Gray School," located next to the upcoming Braddock Road Metro station in the Del Ray section of the city, Beatley said.
Although Mart representatives have had conversations with officials from other East Coast cities, "no other city officials," except the Alexandria officials, have flown to Chicago for a sales pitch, he said.
However, the spokesman for the Mart Center, whose Merchandise Mart, Apparel Center and Expo Center cover 6.5 million square feet in the heart of Chicago, cautioned that "no deal has been made with the Alexandria people. We're in the talking stage with them, and others," he said.
The spokesman xpressed som concern tht word of the Mart's interest had leaked ot. "I think the mayor may have jumped the gun on this" he said.
However, he confirmed that Mart executives Brian J. Quirk Jr. and James Bidwell had visited Alexandria and would receive the city's officials next week.
The Parker-Gray School, located on a seven-acre site between the upcoming Metro line and the heavily traveled Rte. 1 corridor, was closed last year because of declining enrollments. City Manager Harman said yesterday that in his "preliminary discussions" with Mart officials, he had stressed the possibility the city would lease the structure to a user, rather than sell it.
The Mart spokesman said by phone that "we would like to have 125 to 150 wholesale showrooms" in one location, which would sell to licensed profesional designers and architects. He said it was "too early" to discuss the price of the project.
The city is preparing a comprehensive zoning plan for the area around the school, which is expected to result in height limitations and density restrictions. Beatley said he was enthusiatic about the Mart taking over the building "because they like to recycle and adapt existing buildings, rather than tear them down."
Beatley said the presence of Metro, the site's location one Metro stop away from National Airport, and the city's four dozen restaurants were factors in the "enthusiasm" of Mart officials for the site. The area contains some warehouses, subsidized housing units, row houses and single family detached homes.