Old Dominion Boat Club accepts city’s offer to relocate

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Updated 10 a.m. March 27

By Erich Wagner (File Photo)

After a decades-long fight to hold onto its waterfront property, the Old Dominion Boat Club has accepted a deal to sell its land, paving the way for a public plaza described as the crown jewel of a revitalized Potomac shoreline.

Members of the organization voted overwhelmingly this past weekend to transfer the club’s land at the foot of King Street to City Hall in exchange for the nearby Beachcomber property and $5 million. Sixty-six percent of the 400 members who cast ballots over a three-day period favored the offer, which includes an option to build a new parking lot, boat ramp and piers.

A second offer, which would let the club trade its waterfront parking lot for $2.5 million and nearby parking spaces, garnered 24 percent of the vote. The option of rejecting both of City Hall’s overtures — likely setting the stage for a land grab and messy legal fight — received support from just 12 percent of participating members.

But boat club member and former City Councilor Frank Fannon said many members didn’t like either of the proposals floated by the city last week. The two offers emerged from an intense, 90-day period of negotiations after officials threatened to take the land through eminent domain in the fall.

“Don’t be misled by the high percentage of that, because it was the only realistic option out there of the three,” Fannon said. “The majority didn’t want to vote for any options and only did this because we’re under threat from city council.”

Mayor Bill Euille characterized the deal as a positive step toward revitalizing the shoreline. Under the controversial waterfront redevelopment plan, the boat club’s property becomes a public area known as Fitzgerald Square.

“I’m pleased that both sides, the boat club and the city, were able to craft [a deal] and continue to meet the March 18 deadline set by council,” he said. “We were able to offer some compromises that were positive [for both sides].”

Euille said he understood the acrimony felt by boat club members but what’s most important is that a deal finally has been reached.

“If I were on their side of the ledger, I would probably feel the same way, but you’ve got to understand, we spent the last 10 plus years working to get where we ended up,” Euille said. “I think it’s a positive outcome simply because more than a majority of the members voting decided this was the right thing to do.”

And Jody Manor, a city waterfront commissioner and business owner, was elated at the turn of events. Manor and former colleague Christine Bernstein campaigned heavily for swapping the boat club’s land for the Beachcomber building.

Though the idea had surfaced before, the duo saw it as a way to avoid eminent domain as well as years of litigation and hard feelings.

“I think it’s a very forward-thinking solution and I really, truly applaud the leadership on both sides of the issue to craft something in such a short period of time,” Manor said. “That speaks very, very well for the future of our city and all of the exciting changes coming to our waterfront.”

Fannon, though, warned against writing off the agreement as a done deal. The boat club and City Hall must work out a final contract for the land swap. And, according to club bylaws, two-thirds of members must approve a real estate deal.

“Like many things, the devil is in the details,” Fannon said. “We still need to approve the contract, so that was really more of a straw poll of the membership and agreeing to a term sheet.”