Alexandria is in the midst of a boom in construction.
According to F. Daniel Montague, the city's director for economic development, more than $200 million in new construction, on over 20 sites, is being pumped into the 16 square miles that make up Alexandria. And that's not counting what's on the drawing boards.
"Alexandria seems to be a clear capsule version of what's happening in the Washington area," Montague said recently. "It's a city that has a long tradition and a clearly defined identity. It has everything . . . industry, a port, programs for the economically depressed, you name it."
But what's happening is construction, and lots of it, with more to come. An agreement reached earlier this month between Alexandria and the federal government concerning ownership of a 1 1/2-mile-long, 39 1/2-acre area of Old Town waterfront resulted in a plan that will allow commercial development of about 30 percent of that land, leaving 15 acres as parkland and the remainder as "open space," which can be used for museums, artistic facilities, marinas and outdoor restaurants.
Although this settlement, reached after more than a century of dispute, has sent visions of prosperity dancing through the heads of area developers, the newly available waterfront area is only a small part of on-going construction projects. Between July 1980 and August 1981, 19 commercial office projects, with a combined area of 1.74 million square feet, were approved by the city. Of that, about 746,000 square feet is scheduled for completion within the next two years. An additional 343,100 square feet of so-called industrial development, composed mostly of warehouses, was approved.
One of the largest tracts of property being developed is owned by Mark Winkler Management Inc. and comprises about 500 acres of rolling woodland bordered by Seminary Road, North Beauregard Street and I-395. Purchased in parcels prior to World War II, the tract has been developed according to a "perimeter plan," explained owner Hal Winkler.
"Everyone is cooperating to help make this area a showcase," Winkler said. "We control the entire area and won't let anyone cheapen it."
Completed construction on the Winkler property totals 470,000 square feet and includes Mark Center Plaza I, which has attracted high-tech tenants such as Control Data Corp. and the Center for Naval Analyses. A new companion building, the 86,800 square foot Mark Center Plaza II, is currently being built on the site, with occupancy slated for early next year. Winkler has also received approval for a new Alexandria hotel, the Radisson-Mark. Plans call for a 32-story, 550-room tower surrounded by an artificial lake and more than 100 acres of woodland.
The objective for his property, said Winkler, is to create an environment so that "people would live here, work here and visit the restaurants here. We take the long-range view on everything we do.
"Big corporations don't do well in today's real estate market because they require a reflection on the bottom line. That's why Gulf Oil Corp. had to get out of Reston," he said, explaining that most major real estate developments take too long to show a profit. Winkler attributed his success in Alexandria to the early purchase of property, adding that Winkler Management Inc. would continue to manage the property long after construction is completed in about five years.
Another major project, along the waterfront in Old Town, is the $50 million Trans-Potomac Plaza. Five office buildings will total over 320,000 square feet of rentable space. Savage/Fogarty Cos. Inc., the developers, began site construction in June and expects to complete the project by early to mid-1983.
Although the buildings have not been pre-leased, a Savage/Fogarty spokeswoman expressed optimism concerning the project. "We hope to attract single-occupant tenants to three of the buildings, and plan to sell the other two to owner-users," she said.
The same fast pace of development characterizes several other Alexandria neighborhoods and commercial districts. The planned opening late next year of three Metro subway stops--Eisenhower station, Braddock Road station and the King Street station--has sparked construction in these areas. A new seven-story, 96-unit condominium is under construction near the King Street Metro.
"The 1600 Prince Street site marks the transitional area on middle ground between Old Town Alexandria and the newly emerging commercial development at King Street station," said Charles Langdon, one of the partners building the high-rise condominium. f course, not everyone in Alexandria views development with the same higher tax-base, income-producing glee, and not everyone is experiencing the same high degree of success with new ventures. National Capital Developers, builders of an 18-house luxury waterfront project known as Waterford Place, recently filed for bankruptcy. The homes, all priced above $200,000, suffered not from a lack of buyers, but from the crushing load of interest payments on loans taken out to buy construction materials. The only two houses completed were quickly sold.
The Board of Architectural Review (BAR) must qualify and approve development in the historic Old Town area, and local zoning restrictions govern land use in outlying areas. BAR's jurisdiction even affects buildings not generally considered historic, such as the city's four-building torpedo manufacturing complex, built during World War I and expanded two decades later. After Christmas, Building No. 1 will be razed to make way for a planned condominum. The Torpedo Factory, which houses a collection of artisans and their work spaces, will remain in a remodeled Building No. 2. The group lost its bid to be allowed to expand into Building No. 1, which will be converted for "other commercial uses." Building No. 3 will be partially torn down and remodeled into 100,000 square feet of office space.
On the other hand, the city doesn't always get its way. Last summer, Alexandria Scrap Co., which operates a junkyard clearly visible from the Beltway near the Eisenhower subway station, successfully resisted the city's efforts to revoke its permit, but agreed to a number of restrictions on its operations. An Alexandria official, who declined to be identified, said the agreement allowing the junkyard to remain until 1992 was "much to the unhappiness of a lot of people here."
The emphasis on economic development in Alexandria isn't focused strictly on new construction, however. Since the first of the year, more than a dozen national trade and professional associations have relocated to Alexandria, citing access to the nation's capital without the expense of a downtown Washington location as the primary reason. And Montague, Alexandria's economic development director, made a promise to himself "to call 20 associations a week," extolling the virtues of doing business in Alexandria.
"What we'll avoid here in Alexandria is the creation of another Crystal City," Montague said. "Sure, there's more control over the type of development that's done here, but everyone knows what the plan is and what our intentions are. It breeds investor and developer confidence."