Opinion Your Views — 01 March 2012
Opinion: City Hall squanders Alexandria’s assets with waterfront plan

To the editor:

Much has been said about developing a “world-class” waterfront for Alexandria.  But what makes a place truly world class?

Think about the attractions that stimulate interest for tourists in other cities. They tend to be unique to that municipality. It’s things like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Charleston’s Fort Sumter, the Alamo in San Antonio or San Francisco’s cable cars and Fisherman’s Wharf.

We all know there is much about Alexandria that is truly unique and already draws visitors from all over the world. Alexandria was a major Colonial port; George Washington was a frequent visitor here; our city was once part of the District of Columbia; and we were occupied by Union forces throughout most of the Civil War. Not to mention the Torpedo Factory Art Center is truly a visionary repurposing of a waterfront building originally constructed to manufacture armaments.

These are the kinds of things that already attract people here. Just watch the crowds following Colonial tours, visiting Gadsby’s Tavern — perhaps to meet with “George Washington” — or following John Carlyle’s funeral procession to the burial ground at the Old Presbyterian Meeting House. Alexandria can and should do more to capitalize on our unique historic and artistic attractions, and the Potomac River frontage would be a superb place to do this.

Conversely, if one insists on building generic hotels along the river, as the city’s plan proposes, our precious waterfront will be condemned to mediocrity. While one does want an attractive hotel as a place to stay when visiting another city, hotels are not generally attractive destinations in themselves. We should not let our city become just another clone like so many other places that have shown no vision in capitalizing on their natural assets.

Other cities’ waterfronts demonstrate conclusively community support is the key to success. However, Alexandria has singularly failed to enlist residents in any meaningful way in planning for the Potomac waterfront. If that had actually been the case, the city would not have a plan in limbo because a large number of Alexandrians have signed a petition opposing the proposed re-zoning of the district.

Instead of continuing to use taxpayer money to press for development residents don’t want, the city should send this sorry excuse for a plan back to the drawing board and this time do the job right. Involve interested residents in the planning from the outset instead of trying to tweak a plan that was fundamentally flawed from the start.  Alexandrians care very much about our community and do want to be involved in planning for the future, so the city should give them the opportunity to do so.

- Hugh M. Van Horn
Alexandria

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