City receives grant to buy Murray’s Livery

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By Chris Teale (File photo)

The City of Alexandria is one big step closer to buying a historic home on Prince Street thanks to a $900,000 grant awarded by the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation last month.

Murray’s Livery at 517 Prince St. is an 18th century home and is believed to be the oldest of its type in Alexandria. The city’s grant is one of 23 awarded by the VLCF in a package that totals $6.42 million. The grants are used by private land trusts, local governments and state agencies to protect and acquire significant lands.

The property, owned by Joseph Reeder, became mired in controversy in late June after the Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority proposed acquiring the property in conjunction with an extension on its lease at Cameron Run Regional Park.

City council deferred action on that plan until the fall, with instructions to city staff to explore alternative options for the house. Lance Mallamo, director of the Office of Historic Alexandria, said the city sent its application for the VLCF grant in July and requested $1.25 million.

The house is worth approximately $2.5 million, but Mallamo said Reeder will donate his equity, meaning the city faces a shortfall of only $350,000 that must be raised after the $900,000 award. And while there are no concrete fundraising plans, Mallamo said it is something the city is used to doing for historic properties.

Previously, donations preserved the ice well at Gadsby’s Tavern, and there is a similar effort underway at the Friendship Firehouse Museum, which is seeking to preserve two 19th century firefighting vehicles.

Mallamo said while there are seven museums in the city, Murray’s Livery would provide a different perspec- tive from the grander properties open to the public.

“The one thing we don’t have is a museum to document ordinary life,” he said. “We have some museums in the city that somewhat do that, like Carlyle House and Lee-Fendall House. But those museums are grand homes documenting what people would refer to as the ‘Great Man’ view of history. Here, this is a home of an ordinary 18th century family.”

Mallamo said Reeder has been approached by multiple organizations looking to buy the property and has shown an interest in selling. Under the terms of the grant, the city has three years to put an acquisition deal in place. As such, Mallamo said time is of the essence.

The home contains a historically significant 18th century timber frame, and has been relatively unaltered over time. It is a contributing resource in the Old and Historic District, which was designated a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service in 1966. Mallamo said given its large gar- den area, the lot will become public open space.

Under city ownership, the property itself likely would be open to the general public on weekends, with programming for smaller groups during the week.

The home’s potential acquisition by the city means that NOVA Parks will return to council later this year for a discussion on the future of Cameron Run Regional Park as an individual piece of property.

The 26-acre park is visited by more than 100,000 people each year, a third of which are from the city. It is owned by the city but operated by NOVA Parks, for which the park raises about $600,000 a year. Alexandria is one of six jurisdictions to fund the authority, and pays $4.60 per resident to do so.

The current lease is set to expire in 2020, but NOVA Parks’ plan to link a 20- year extension with buying the home left councilors perturbed by what they described as a lack of public engagement and the potential for conflict between the goals of recreation and historic preservation.

At council’s hearing in June, several residents questioned the future vision for the park, which currently hosts a water park, a mini golf course and batting cages. If the lease were renewed, the park’s uses would not be up for discussion again until 2036, something several attendees said was too long a wait given the current paucity of athletic facilities in the city.

After that hearing and council’s vote to defer a decision, the city’s parks and recreation commission host- ed several public meetings to discuss potential uses for the park. Vice Mayor Justin Wilson and commission chairwoman Jennifer Atkins said council will consider a work plan for Cameron Run Regional Park later this year, which has been formulated by the commission, city staff and community input.

Atkins said the commission directed staff to formulate a unified planning process for the park as well as other West End parks that are being re-examined. She said the commission requested an independent third-party consultant to help under- stand current uses, potential future uses and the costs and benefits therein.

Wilson said regardless of the rancor of previous meetings, the city’s partnership with NOVA Parks remains critical in the future management of Cameron Run Regional Park.

“I think what the whole discussion showed us was there was a lot of different things that people wanted out of that property,” Wilson said. “Whether it’s all possible or not is a different story, but we’re going to take our time and analyze them and determine how we get there. I’m hopeful that whatever the future of that site is, it’s going to be in concert with the parks authority.

“I think they have some capabilities and capacity that can be helpful as we try to figure out the future of that site.”

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