The hotel-residential-retail project intended to replace the old Robinson Terminal North property along Alexandria’s Potomac River waterfront will be delayed, developers said, because of its failure to snag a “trophy-flag hotel” and the rising cost of construction.
CityInterests Inc. and Rooney Properties, owners of the 3.2-acre property at Union and Oronoco Streets, plan to move forward with environmental tests but demolition and construction are on hold, they wrote in a statement to the city.
The project, which was approved 10 months ago after years of noisy public debate, was to be the third major redevelopment on the Old Town waterfront, intended to anchor its north end. Along with two other projects to the south, it was supposed to bring in enough tax money to help pay for amenities such as an extensive park and flood control.
“We’re disappointed this part of the waterfront plan won’t be going forward as planned,” said Mark Jinks, Alexandria’s city manager. “We’ll have to look at and understand the economics and work with the developer and the community to see . . . what viable alternatives there are.”
The delay “probably will negatively impact our revenue stream” for the rest of the waterfront, Jinks said. It would probably postpone rather than kill future improvements for the eight-block-long park, he said.
The city’s hotly contested waterfront plan, which took years to resolve partly because of multiple lawsuits, first passed in January 2012, then was approved again 14 months later. The City Council in 2014 adopted a $120 million landscape design and project plan created by Olin Studios.
The Old Dominion Boat Club, which accepted a $5 million buyout offer from the city for its clubhouse and parking lot at the foot of King Street, is moving a few hundred feet south to the site of the now-demolished Beachcomber restaurant. It is expected to complete construction next August, and its old home will become part of a new civic square, which the city has already funded.
Work on Carr Hospitality’s Hotel Indigo, a boutique hotel at 220 S. Union St., and Robinson Landing, a residential and retail project on the site of the old Robinson Terminal South warehouse owned by developer EYA, is underway. The city is working on design and engineering plans for a flood mitigation project along the shoreline.
The Robinson Terminal North project ran into opposition from some residents who didn’t want the traffic that a hotel and restaurants would bring and thought the five-story structure was too tall. Some objected to initial modern designs by the Hickok Cole Architects, but the City Council easily approved the final design in October 2015.
The construction delay is partly because of economics, Jinks said.
“This is a very expensive site to redevelop,” he said. “The water table is right there” at the river. The design was very high-end . . . and the market isn’t there for that high-level hotel. Construction prices have not come down for labor, concrete or steel — and a whole lot more equity is needed for projects.”
The site also includes a large and deteriorated pier that the city had required to be transformed into a public park — something that added to expenses, Jinks said.
Kenneth Wire, the attorney for the developers, told the city that he will appear at a waterfront commission meeting in September with more information.
The joint venture just finalized the purchase of the 3.2-acre property last month from Graham Holdings, which retained the property ownership after the old Washington Post Co. was split up three years ago. The terminal had been used for decades as warehouses to store newsprint, among other products.
Charlotte Hall, chairman of the city’s waterfront commission, said Monday that the delay is perhaps “a blessing, because residents were concerned about all this development at one time. I’m still hopeful and optimistic — I’ll be concerned in two to three months if we don’t see some progress.”
Stephanie Landrum, president and chief executive of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, called the Robinson Terminal North project “ambitious and complicated . . . that is an important piece” of the waterfront plan.