Visions clash over the re-creation of Alexandria’s waterfront

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Visions clash over the re-creation of Alexandria’s waterfront
(File photo)
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John Komoroske and Boyd Walker dont see eye to eye on the waterfronts redevelopment, but their competing visions for Alexandrias shores arent separated by a vast gulf either.

Komoroske, Alexandria Planning Commission chairman, has championed the waterfront plan headed for passage by the city council. Walker, of the Greater Alexandria Preservation Alliance, has joined other residents in criticizing the plan and in particular its encouragement for new hotels along the river. 

That controversial sticking point aside, both claim their aspirations for the waterfront embrace Alexandrias historic role as a port city and the more recent distinction as an arts destination with ample park space.

Strolling along the waterfront Sunday, Walker painted his vision of museums at Robinson South, warehouses converted for use by boat builders, a restored Beachcomber restaurant and outdoor dining. Just no hotels, please.

What were trying to create is a more vibrant area, he said. We want to enhance the visitors experience and a hotel is not an attraction. You can see it from here what motivates city leaders. Its National Harbor envy.

Komoroske is quick to point out that a few boutique hotels scaled down versions of the Hotel Monaco arent exactly a spitting image of the illuminated, glittering towers across the river. Hes taken issue with the perception the commission wants to recreate National Harbor in Old Town.

Though hes pushing for many of the same improvements Walker wants, including art centers, museums and a pedestrian-friendly atmosphere, theres a money problem. Walker envisions a mixture of taxpayer dollars, grants and philanthropy paying for the slew of improvements, but thats not realistic, Komoroske said. 

He estimates buying the land and converting it into one or more museums would cost somewhere around $55 million. Hotels generate tax revenue dollars slated to pay off the citys investment into the waterfront and the same cant be said for museums, according to Komoroske.

The risk is that you have this big potential albatross for $50 million and no way to fund it, he said. 

[The city] couldnt fully fund the school capital improvement program. Where is the money going to come from? Komoroske said. The city isnt going to get money to seed these things … Theoretically its possible, but its a gigantic amount of work and it would always be on the edge. 

Walker concedes finding money for historical preservation isnt easy, but the city hasnt looked at anything other than developer dollars as a way to pay for the proposed improvements at the waterfront, he said. 

As well as generate tax revenue, hotels would serve a second purpose, supporters argue: giving the rivers edge a public-feel that private residences dont. 

TOURISTS OR RESIDENTS?

Resident and waterfront plan opponent Bert Ely wouldnt mind seeing homes go up along the waterfront instead of hotels or restaurants. 

I like the idea of residences along the waterfront and Im really concerned about some of these hotel proposals and I dont want to see scads of new restaurants, he said. The one thing that does concern me is an excessive of beliefs in the merits of tourism I think that there is way too much emphasis on it. If were going to be sensitive to what the impact is we dont want to overdo it. Were not a Williamsburg.

Tourists enjoying the waterfront on a breezy Monday afternoon had few, if any requests for changes. Texans Doris Elizondo and Justin McCravy rested against the promenade railing trying to get a glimpse at the Potomacs wildlife. More art and music venues jived with McCravy, though Elizondo said she understood why there might be opposition to a livelier waterfront. 

I like it quiet, Elizondo said. The younger generation would want more music and art. Im a yuppie, right in the middle. I like quiet and calm If there were a lot of tourists [the waterfront] wouldnt be that accessible.

Tourist Guido Nordmann wouldnt mind taking a kayak or canoe out onto the Potomac and a venue for music would be a nice touch, but big hotels didnt fit in with his impression of the waterfront. 

Though the planning commission approved the designs for a redeveloped waterfront last week after years of tweaks and in spite of heated opposition from Walker, Ely and others, the debate is expected to rage on as city council prepares to hear from the public on May 14. 

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