By Derrick Perkins (Image/City of Alexandria)
Representatives of regional developer and real estate giant EYA sought to woo local business owners and enlist their help as the company prepares to reshape a large portion of the city’s waterfront.
Packed into restaurateur Jody Manor’s dockside eatery, the Waterfront Market, shop owners, artisans and nonprofit leaders — among others — listened intently Monday as A.J. Jackson, a senior vice president with EYA, outlined the developer’s plans for Robinson Terminal South. If the redevelopment project gets City Hall’s OK, a mix of upscale condominiums, restaurants and shops will replace the timeworn waterfront warehouse complex.
“We’re engaging the business community, the art community, the neighbors,” Jackson said after a brief question and answer session. “This is part of our overall outreach effort. A lot of people are interested in what happens with the waterfront.”
That’s an understatement. With few exceptions, waterfront redevelopment has served as a major point of contention since officials began planning the future of the city’s shoreline in earnest several years ago.
The southern terminal, like it’s northern counterpart, is one of three riverside sites targeted for redevelopment in the city’s controversial waterfront plan. The third location, the 200 block of S. Union St., is slated to become a boutique hotel — with 150 rooms or less — as likely will Robinson Terminal North.
EYA’s vision for the southern warehouse complex includes 96 luxury residences, a 5,800-square-foot riverside restaurant, commercial space, a waterfront promenade and refurbished pier featuring a seasonal cafe, boat slips and public art. The project also includes a 3,300-square-foot space for a second restaurant or retail outlet.
The undertaking, which EYA representatives plan to bring to City Hall in the fall for approval, also will extend The Strand from Duke Street to South Union Street, connecting the two thoroughfares in an L-shaped fashion.
Unlike redevelopment projects at the northern terminal and along the 200 block of S. Union St., this has so far drawn little criticism. Even noted waterfront plan opponent Bert Ely, co-chair of Friends of the Alexandria Waterfront, offered supportive words for the proposal when EYA unveiled it earlier this year.
“[High-end residential] is what I think is going to make the most sense down there,” Ely said at the time. “It reflects the value of the land and will be a moneymaker for the city. I think the city has tended to overrate the value of commercial relative to high-end residential in that area.”
Traffic and parking issues likely will remain a concern, though. And Jackson sought to alleviate other potential fears during Monday’s get-together. Patrick McMahon, owner of Old Town Editions, a nearby digital printmaking business, worried vibrations from pile driving could disrupt area merchants and residents.
He also wanted to know whether local artisans could have first dibs on any salvageable material pulled from the site.
“It’s all in good fun: Grab something that somebody else is discarding. For me, it’s not a business, it’s a pleasure,” McMahon said later, vowing to follow up on his request with EYA officials. “I’d love to take a look and see what I can get. You’d be surprised what’s hidden in the corners, that’s been left or stored there.”
McMahon left the gathering pleased. He, like others, came to meet his new neighbors and put a face to a name. He said he supports the project, as long as it respects the waterfront’s history.
EYA, which is behind a slew of local projects, like the Oronoco and Ford’s Landing, will continue its outreach effort. Jackson ended his presentation with a pitch to business owners, asking them to encourage their patrons to take the company’s online survey on the project as it moves forward.
Manor, who introduced the EYA team, described it as a critical point for Alexandria and a time when business leaders need to embrace the ambitious redevelopment plan.
“This is such a historic moment in our city, to help restore our historic waterfront,” he said. “It really is important that the small business community comes together to make this happen.”