The Washington Post

Editor’s note: The tides are changing for waterfront development

If and when I ever move, I want my next home to be near water.

I can think of little more serene than to live in a place where my private Muzak is the gurgling of a stream, the running of a river or the rhythmic crash of ocean waves.

One of my first stories as a cub reporter in Alexandria back in the early 1980s was to spend a week walking the Potomac waterfront; this in the days before the Torpedo Factory Art Center would bring new energy to Old Town. I’ll never forget the colorful cast of characters I encountered, particularly one memorable group swimming underneath a giant pipe spilling what appeared to be sudsy water near a coal-fired power plant. Why would you swim here?, I asked.

Because the water’s warmer, came the answer. Oh.

Years later, when I was the local business editor, I commissioned a story previewing the renaissance coming to Washington’s riverfront. In those days, the future was mostly plans on paper for new snazzy developments at Prince George’s National Harbor, Alexandria (again), D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront and along the banks of the Anacostia River by Nationals Park.

We took a staff field trip the Potomac one crisp day to see the sites before they changed. You get a different perspective of the city out on the water; the rivers are no longer just some barrier to commute across, but a world unto themselves, a place where the pace just slows.

Anyway, the story proved to be premature. The Great Recession intervened, and financing dried up. I laugh at a line in our report that suggested development was certain because there was no where left to build (this before the rise of NoMa, the reinvention of Tysons, and the migration back to the urban core).

Oh well. Any prediction can come true if you just wait long enough. Big, new projects are beckoning, as our cover story on the Southwest Waterfront last week showed. It’s won’t be long before we have a Ferris wheel turning at National Harbor and the Francis Case Memorial Bridge near the Southwest Waterfront is lit up with lights like London’s Tower Bridge during the 2012 Summer Olympics.

And when that happens, our waterways won’t be the same.

Dan Beyers is the founding editor of Capital Business, The Washington Post’s go-to source for news about the region’s business community.
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