St. James Group nixes plans for Hensley Park

By Erich Wagner

The community debate over whether to lease a public park on the West End to a for-profit company had scarcely begun when it abruptly ended Tuesday evening.

The team behind a proposal for a massive, privately run sports and entertainment complex at Hensley Park quickly withdrew their plan after discovering the land was bought in part using federal conservation funding.

City officials announced the reversal by the St. James Group late Tuesday night, saying that although their initial look into the property’s history did not reveal any restrictions on what it could be used for, a second check proved otherwise.

Residents’ concerns about the financial package behind the 1977 purchase of the property prompted the in-depth investigation. Officials have since determined Hensley Park was bought for a little more than $1 million, with up to $300,000 coming from a federal grant.

The St. James Group envisioned a massive sports complex for Hensley Park, but the discovery that federal dollars had been used to buy the land put an instant damper on their proposal. (Image/St. James Group)

On Tuesday, officials at the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation confirmed that the city used at least $117,000 of money set aside by the federal Land and Water Conservation Act. Taking advantage of the act comes with the stipulation that property acquired or developed with such money cannot be converted from public outdoor recreation unless the land is replaced with reasonably equivalent space.

“We appreciate the St. James Group’s interest in the City of Alexandria as a possible location for their business, and wish them well in finding a suitable location for their innovative facility,” said Mayor Bill Euille in a statement. “We certainly understand both the reason for their initial interest and their decision to make a change based on their concerns about restrictions on use of the Hensley Park site.”

Officials said they would continue to review the issue to determine whether there are any restrictions on other pieces of city parkland to avoid future confusion.

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