The city of Alexandria yesterday sued a business partner of Alexandria Mayor Frank E. Mann in an effort to recover almost $17,000 in unpaid taxes on waterfront property that the mayor says is owned by a company he formed.

John C. Richards, the mayor's friend and business partner, was sued by the city attorney's office in Alexandria Circuit Court for recovery of $16,936.18 in back taxes as well as unstated penalties and interest.

No taxes were paid on the property from 1974 through 1978, according to the suit. The addition of penalties and interest would mean the total due is about $24,000, city hall officials said.

The suit is the most serious action taken by the city in its two-years effort to obtain property taxes on the vacant eight-tenths acre riverfront property, which Mann has frequently said he owns with Richards and one other person.

Mann has said that tax bills sent by the city were never received by him or Richards, although city records show the bills were properly addressed, mailed and never returned, officials said.

Mann has also stated that the taxes have gone unpaid because of a "clouded" title to the property and because there has been a federal prohibition against waterfront construction until a dacade-old ownership dispute concerning the entire waterfront can be resolved.Mann and Richards could not be reached for comment.

The suit was filed against Richards, in care of the Port of Alexandria Co. which is located in a Prince Street gunshop owned by Richards. Although Mann has said he is a one-third partner in the company, his name does not appear on the deed to the land, which is owned solely by Richards, according to Deputy City Attorney Burton B. Hanbury Jr., who filed the suit.

The suit was filed along with 20 others in Circuit Court against delinquent property tax-payers. Dozens of other delinquent tax suits will be filed during the rest of the week in both Circuit Court and General District Court, Hanbury said, as part of the city's effort to collect more than $500,000 in back taxes.

Mann unexpectedly announced at a city council meeting Tuesday night he would place a check for the amount of taxes in dispute in an escrow account where neither the company nor the city can get it until lawyers decide whether the city is entitled to it.

Mann made his announcement shorly after he and the council had voted to authorized the tax suits that Hanbury filed yesterday.

It could not be learned whether the money was placed in an escrow account or, if it has, who controls it or whether it draws interest.

Among those sued by the city yesterday for alleged non-payment of back taxes were Wellington Goddin and Jeanne C. Goddin, his wife. Goddin is one of Alexandria's leading real estate brokers. According to the suit, the Goddins owe $27,429.12, plus penalties and interest, stemming from tax bills which were unpaid from 1974 to 1978. "I assume I owe the taxes and hope to pay them," Goddin said.