Before Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr. flew over the city in a Bell Ranger helicopter yesterday, he reiterated his stance on building a public heliport in Alexandria.
"It doesn't make a modicum of sense," the mayor said. A review of the proposed site and flight path would hardly change his opinion, Moran said, but he would do it, "because far be it from me to have a closed mind on this asinine idea."
Shortly after the 30-minute ride and a discussion with city officials and helicopter representatives, Moran toned down his remarks. No longer was he calling it a "big Christmas toy" for the project's original sponsor, former mayor Charles E. Beatley.
The proposed heliport, he said simply, is "not unreasonable." And, if it could be built atop a low-rise building, where it would not occupy land without generating tax revenue, all the better, he said.
Still, Moran said he would not support the heliport, which would be built on a vacant two-acre site near the Eisenhower Avenue Metro Station and cost Alexandria $150,000. Ninety-five percent of the $3 million facility would be paid for by federal and state funds.
Previously, Moran, who defeated Beatley in the May election, said he knew of no constituent who wanted or needed a place to park a helicopter. Rather, he said, helicopter traffic could be dangerous near National Airport and would bring unwanted noise.
Moran apparently decided to cushion his remarks, and avoid a sparring match with Beatley, after learning that no high-rises could be built on the proposed site because of land agreements and after talking to council members who also flew in the helicopter and appear certain to approve the project Saturday.
Beatley, who arranged yesterday's helicopter ride, which was paid for by private developer Walter Robbins, said he did so to ensure that the seven-member council realizes what an "irresistible" project the heliport is. "If this heliport flies, it will be the only one in the Washington area," Beatley said. "It will bring corporations to Alexandria; it will shuttle people to Dulles -- that airport has caught on fire, people from the airport will come to our hotels and restaurants . . . . It's such a good idea, you can't resist it."
Five of the seven City Council members have expressed interest in the heliport or indicated they would vote for it. Only council member Carlyle C. Ring voted with Moran two weeks ago when the mayor tried to kill the project.
Council member Redella (Del) Pepper said she likes the whole idea of having the area's first public heliport. "It's an exciting concept. It gives the right message -- that Alexandria is a progressive city, a city of the future."