YOUR VIEWS | Chamber Notes

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As the new president of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, Ive found myself hip-deep in the muddy waters circulating around a future waterfront plan for our city.  Typical of most high profile, visionary development projects, the city has conducted studies, held public meetings and spent numerous staff hours planning for the revitalization of our riverfront. Now with the quiet summer ending and the public planning process resuming full swing, we are encouraged that we can finally see the finish line. 

Theres no doubt that the city has practiced responsible planning. Trying to weigh and balance all of the issues including transportation, parking and the environment is no easy task. It is also important to balance the interests required to satisfy the citys many stakeholder groups. But the city has been studying and listening and spending scarce funds on planning for over a year, after what seemed to be a prolonged delay in undertaking this important project. 

Its now time to put the pen to paper and present a plan that demonstrates whats become the mantra for the city economic sustainability. We in the business community fully support that mantra and know that it can be accomplished in a manner that generates substantial revenue while preserving and enhancing our existing assets as part of a well-balanced and fully-integrated development plan. 

We already know much about what needs to be included in a viable waterfront plan.  Similar developments have been accomplished throughout the United States. Its not surprising that throughout the planning process similar solutions, tailored to Alexandria, keep coming up. These generally include mixed-used development with thoughtful retail/restaurant uses; preservation and enhancement of our existing parks; showcasing our history and the arts; and establishing Alexandria as a destination port city again with expanded facilities and a program for activities along and on the water. Of course, all this development should happen with a level of sanity to protect the historic character of the city and those potentially affected residents.

The final adoption of the waterfront plan is scheduled to occur by June of 2010. Wed like to see the next 10 months not only be spent fine-tuning a plan that serves the best interests of the city, but also that it be used to identify how the city will fund its implementation. Its likely we will need to get more financially inventive and aggressive in order to attract the developers, businesses and visionary people needed to make the plan a reality. Public-private partnerships, industrial revenue bonds, historic tax credits and other incentives should be considered, along with special service districts. It would be tragic for so much effort to be expended on developing a world-class waterfront plan only to have it sit on a shelf for lack of funding. Lets use the current planning process to fully explore funding options so that land owners and developers will have a complete roadmap for implementation.

The fact is, not everyone will be completely happy with what might be the best thing for Alexandria. Tough choices will need to be made and money will have to be spent. Our neighbors are making those choices and they are moving forward. National Harbor is already here and the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative is underway. There is a great opportunity for Alexandria to capitalize on its waterfront and its unique character. Indeed, historically, Alexandria has its roots in commerce thanks to the waterfront. We need to return to those roots in order to secure our citys future.

Tina Leone is the president and CEO of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce.

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