More than three years after a pitched civic battle over the future of the Old Town Alexandria waterfront, the vision of a new “front yard” for this historic city is beginning to take shape.
The City Council last year adopted a $120 million landscape design and project plan created by Olin Studios. But it may be years before residents and tourists see the lush parks and fountains in operation; Alexandria’s plan is to focus on infrastructure and development first.
Residents told city officials over the winter that they wanted a solution to the notoriously flood-prone streets adjacent to the Potomac. The council will determine March 3 what funding to allocate to flood mitigation. Storm-sewer work is underway, and planning officials are studying how to raise the grade of streets on the southern end of the waterfront area and build the bulkheads necessary for a waterfront walkway.
“We have to get funding in place, we have to get the design done and we have permitting processes to complete,” all of which could take three years, said Emily Baker, Alexandria’s acting deputy city manager.
Meanwhile, the development plans of private parties who own several large pieces of land along the waterfront are working their way through the permitting process.
First to build probably will be the Old Dominion Boat Club, which last year accepted a $5 million buyout offer from the city for its clubhouse and parking lot at the foot of King Street.
The boat club will move a few hundred feet south, to the site of the vacant Beachcombers building, which it will raze and rebuild as a three-story, 12,000-square-foot club with a roof deck and boat launch.
The old clubhouse will be demolished and will form part of a city park, dubbed Fitzgerald Square. The boat club’s architect told the city’s waterfront commission last week that he hopes the facility will open in 18 months.
Designed to incorporate maritime touches such as outdoor stairways, the clubhouse probably will be built before the city creates the waterfront promenade, a walkway intended to connect the entire area. A fenced parking lot will be directly south of the clubhouse, and a temporary boat ramp will be used until the promenade is built and a permanent ramp is installed.
Five blocks north, the retail-residential-hotel project at 500 N. Union St. could be under construction by late 2016. It is on the site of the old Robinson Terminal North. City Interests LLC bought the property from The Washington Post Co. in late 2013.
Its project, with hotel rooms, condominiums and 8,000 square feet of retail space, received the endorsement of the Board of Architectural Review last week, as did the boat club’s proposal. City Interests officials said they hope to take their proposal to the Planning Commission in May, the last step before seeking City Council approval of a special-use permit.
Even now, after lawsuits, elections and two votes by the council that approved the plans despite objections from some residents, pockets of disapproval remain.
Howard Bergman, a member of the city’s advisory Waterfront Commission, praised City Interests’ plans and architectural drawings, but he complained that the city’s plan allows buildings that are not of colonial design in historic Old Town.
“This would be very attractive on the GenOn site,” he said, referring to the now vacant power plant owned by NRG north of the historic area. “We had a chance to expand the charming part of Old Town, and we missed it.”
Also awaiting progress is Carr Hospitality’s planned boutique hotel at 220 S. Union St. The project is almost ready for construction, said Baker, the acting deputy city manager. Its final site plan has been approved, but the firm hasn’t paid its fees or sought a building permit. Once those steps are taken, construction can begin.
The old Robinson Terminal South warehouse, now owned by EYA, also is slated to become a residential and retail project. That project is scheduled for an April hearing before the Planning Commission.
Finally, the 450-seat Blackwall Hitch restaurant, on the city dock next to the Torpedo Factory Art Center, is expected to open in late spring.