Opinion: Why build hotels if there will be no tourists to book them?

Opinion: Why build hotels if there will be no tourists to book them?
(Cat VanVliet)

To the editor:

In 2011 the National Trust for Historic Preservation recognized the City of Alexandria as one of a dozen “distinctive destinations.” Mayor Bill Euille and Stephanie Brown, president and CEO of the Alexandria Convention and Visitors Association, accepted the award on behalf of the city.

Why then is the city pursuing a plan for Alexandria’s historic waterfront that negatively impacts the city’s ability to attract the visitors on which our tourist industry depends?

More than two-thirds of Alexandria’s annual visitors come here because of our history and cultural attractions, according to ACVA statistics. Further, according to a study by the Preservation Alliance of Virginia, historic preservation visitors stay longer, visit more places and spend nearly three times as much money here as do other visitors. Yet Alexandria’s waterfront plan only pays lip service to our history and the arts and fails to designate funding to help support them.

In addition, the plan proposes the construction of a hotel on the site occupied by Robinson Terminal North, arguably the most historic location in the entire city. Originally named “West’s Point,” it was the first port facility established in the city and the site from which George Washington shipped his wheat and tobacco.

The city appears to have become so entranced with the idea of using hotel taxes to pay for amenities on the waterfront that it has consistently failed to recognize hotels by themselves simply will not attract the visitors to produce these revenues. If the waterfront attractions are not there, the tourists won’t be either.

I urge the city council in the strongest possible way to put a stop to the current, deeply flawed plan and begin a process that can produce a waterfront of which all Alexandrians can be proud and which will help maintain the city as a “distinctive destination” for decades to come.

– Hugh M. Van Horn