The first glimpse of a remade waterfront in Old Town Alexandria should start to be visible by the end of the year, in the form of a riverfront park at the foot of King Street that will include bistro tables and swinging benches, food and craft fairs and, in the winter, an ice rink.
The Alexandria City Council unanimously approved a special-use permit Saturday for Fitzgerald Square, a 1.4-acre park that will eventually be replaced by a broader expanse of green once other parts of the redevelopment — including replacing sewers and building sea walls — are complete.
“The idea is to open up the space as quickly as possible so people can enjoy it,” said Karl Moritz, Alexandria’s planning director.
Fitzgerald Square will replace the nearly century-old Old Dominion Boat Club house, its fenced parking lot and an existing slice of green between the two properties.
The demolition of the private boat club’s structure won’t happen before November, when the replacement clubhouse, about two blocks south, is ready. That was part of a 2014 deal the Alexandria government struck to buy the boat club property for $5 million, ending more than 40 years of acrimony between the organization and the city.
The interim park will cost about $1 million. Other new additions to the historic waterfront are also starting to take shape.
Last week, the boutique Hotel Indigo opened on the former site of one of the warehouses that once lined the Potomac riverfront. Excavation is underway at the former site of Robinson Terminal South, a different warehouse, once owned by the former Washington Post Co., where developer EYA plans a mix of condominiums and retail spaces.
Mayor Allison Silberberg (D), who did not support the waterfront plan because of the number of hotels and density it allowed, said although she would prefer that the 90-year-old clubhouse remain on site, “we’re not really able to revisit that — that vote has come and gone.”
In an interview, she talked about the color of crushed stones that will be incorporated in Fitzgerald Square’s design, preferring a hue used in the pathways around the Reflecting Pool in Washington and in Paris’s Tuileries Gardens. Silberberg said she also wants to be sure the use of the park is primarily passive, rather than recreational.
“I love the fact that we’re creating a connection along the waterfront and a good vista,” she said. “It’s really important to me that people will be able to sit and look out at those boats. . . . It’s really romantic.”
The city expects to spend about $120 million on the waterfront over the next 10 years, half of it on flood mitigation, which involves placing utilities underground, building pump station sites and improving the shoreline.
Getting to this point was no easy task. Almost exactly six years ago, a group of Old Town Alexandria residents staged the first of their lengthy, boisterous and ultimately unsuccessful objections to the waterfront plan.
It took a marathon 14-hour public hearing in January 2012; a series of lawsuits, some of which went to the Virginia Supreme Court; the buyout of the boat club; and a pair of acrimonious local elections before the matter was fundamentally settled.