A group of influential Alexandrians has proposed a $10 million performing arts/convention center/museum complex to be built with private funds on city-donated land along the historic waterfront.
The group, including some residents who have successfully opposed other types of development along the waterfront, presented its proposal to the City Council last week using a splashy display of charts and architectural drawings.
"I find this concept intriguing," said Vice Mayor Robert L. Calhoun, who often takes a dim view of using public funds for non-essential services.
"But we need to get from you a sense of how much it would cost the city to provide public services to the center, how much for police and fire protection, how much it would cost us to buy the land and donate it to you."
Members of the group advocating the proposal, including theater buff Clova Demaine, civic activist Gil Zimmerman and architect David Rosenthal, agreed to report back to the council.
The group indicated it wanted a site on Oronoco Bay, near Pendleton Street, but that any location on the river would do. A riverfront location is essential to keep the cener from being just another concert hall, they said. Most waterfront land is now in federal litigation over title claims, a suit that many observers expect to be settled soon.
The proposed facility would include a 1,500 seat theater-auditorium and a 12,000-square foot exhibition hall and a city museum, according to plans presented to the council.
The facility would be run by a non-profit foundation which would be formed only after the city had agreed to make the land available.
According to a survey by the group, community groups, civic and trade associations would keep the hall busy on a nearly year-round basis.
However, several people protested the concept, claiming it would add to traffic congestion and significantly lower the quality of life in the area if mammoth trade shows were regularly brought in. More than four dozen trade associations have national headquarters in Alexandria.
The group anticipated in its architectural sketches many of the points that have embroiled would-be developers in controversy in the past. The plans permit a bicycle path and walkway across the eastern edge of the property and parking for more than 300 cars, with additional space at the nearby United Way building.
Other civic and community leaders who have lent their support to the concept include historian Frederick Tilp, civic activist resident Lenore Van Swearingen and Torpedo Plant official Marian Van Landingham. The support of such people is often important in persuading council members of a project's importance, according to observers.