“His successful businesses were accomplished on the back of enslaved human beings,” said council member Timothy B. Lovain (D).
Although the new name might not be creative, Lovain said it puts the focus on city efforts aimed at “finally restoring the waterfront to its prominent place in our city.”
The park is a centerpiece of the city’s ongoing redevelopment of Alexandria’s riverfront. It will be combined with a park to the south, which already is called Waterfront Park. The first phase of the redeveloped park, slated for completion in early 2019, will include a plaza, promenade and an adaptable modular space. The entire project will take years to finish, after flood mitigation measures are built and other, undetermined amenities are added.
The abandonment of Fitzgerald’s name enraged Irish organizations in Alexandria, whose leaders raised claims of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic bias. Fitzgerald, an Irish immigrant, was an aide-de-camp to Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War, served as mayor in the city’s earliest years and founded a Catholic church, St. Mary’s Basilica, in the town.
The late restaurateur Pat Troy, also an Irishman, had promoted the use of Fitzgerald’s name around 2010 and the informal name eventually wound up on city planning documents.
A few officials said quietly last spring that there was concern among some residents about Fitzgerald’s slave-owning past. In a March 17 announcement about the project’s groundbreaking, city officials dropped the Fitzgerald Square reference, substituting a temporary name, “King Street Park at the Waterfront.”
In explanation, city communications officials said the park had to go through an official naming process. They dismissed the idea that the change had anything to do with citizens’ complaints about Fitzgerald’s past.
Although about 70 people testified at the naming commission’s hearing in November, the only one to speak up Saturday was Andrew MacDonald, former vice mayor and a descendant of Scottish immigrants.
“This is a simple, lackluster way to escape controversy,” he said Saturday at the hearing, offering the suggestion of Maritime Heritage or Steamboat Park, or finding other names that reflect Alexandria’s seagoing past.
“It’s not the jazziest name, but it serves a purpose,” council member Paul Smedberg (D) responded. That purpose, council member John T. Chapman (D) added, is to provide “a plain name that allows all our communities to explore our history at the waterfront.”
Other protesters showed up to the Saturday meeting, however, to criticize the city for failing to include citizens in its deal to lure Amazon to the area. They said Alexandria’s portion of the National Landing project could allow giveaways to developers through waivers of requirements.
“You claim to be inclusive, but where were our opinions in this matter?” asked Ingris Moran, daughter of Salvadoran immigrants. “There is a pattern here: silence. Lack of transparency. Neglect of our community. . . . This is a government-induced tidal wave headed toward us. At minimum, we need commitments to an anti-displacement fund for our communities to mitigate the impact and to preserve affordable housing.”
About a dozen like-minded residents applauded and raised signs in support. An hour earlier, a half-dozen residents of Arlington made similar points at the Arlington County Board meeting, part of a campaign coordinated with Long Island City activists to protest the inducements that New York and Virginia offered to Amazon to draw 25,000 new jobs each and the East Coast headquarters to each state. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Alexandria officials said their portion of the project, the establishment of a $1 billion Virginia Tech graduate campus, will go through the normal land-use process in which residents have a say in approvals or disapprovals. Arlington officials said the same and noted they have scheduled a “listening session” for Monday at 7 p.m. at Gunston Middle School.