By Ellen Tabb, Alexandria (File photo)
To the editor:
Because our top city officials favor building a new Metro station at Potomac Yard, claiming it will attract needed businesses and their tax revenues, although there is much long vacant commercial space at nearby stations — Eisenhower Avenue, Crystal City, Rosslyn and a glut of empty office space even near D.C. stations — I suspect the mayor and city council are relying on city staff desperate to provide solutions to our revenue problems.
The quest for additional revenues in both the residential and commercial sectors may have led the planning commission to strain to justify a property subdivision in Clover; residents of a new house will pay additional taxes. In the past, Metro stations have attracted new businesses, but we are in a different era: The Internet Age. Also, the economic downturn has encouraged saving over spending to the detriment of business revenues and taxes. Past solutions for generating new tax monies will not work today, and even professionals are understandably flummoxed about how to do so in this new environment.
Easy and widespread access to the Internet has permanently changed our shopping and commuting practices; we no longer need to visit stores, even those near Metro, and telecommute as much as possible, choosing good environmental practices. Therefore, businesses no longer have a strong incentive to locate near Metro.
Presumably, our city staff has already been making its strongest case to businesses to locate or remain here. In nearby Arlington, staffers have tried for more than a decade to fill commercial space in Crystal City, still an area in progress. Rosslyn has had much empty commercial space for years, including even the Gannett Building, which could not find paying tenants in its prime space.
Our city has many essential and expensive needs. Funding improvements to our sewers, streets and schools and ensuring public safety must take priority over building a new Metro station in an area already served by new bus rapid transit. We have a large debt; let’s not adopt an expensive, nonessential and mistaken “solution” that will mar the beauty of the George Washington Memorial Parkway and interfere with the flourishing Potomac Yard Shopping Center in a vain hope that a strategy that worked years ago will succeed.
If it becomes obvious that we need a Metro station at Potomac Yard, we can build it later. We can’t unbuild a station and eliminate the burden of its debt. Yes, interest rates might be higher in the future, but the cost of having that much capital — and nobody really knows how much, despite the estimates — tied up in another Metro station must also be considered — and its payoff is uncertain.
Our economy has changed, and generating new tax revenues in the commercial sector is problematic. Let’s spend our limited funds on only the highest priorities.