Light It Up! citizens committee campaigns to light Potomac Yard basketball courts

Light It Up! citizens committee campaigns to light Potomac Yard basketball courts

By Chris Teale (Courtesy photo)

Potomac Yard resident Bruce Falk said it was about two years ago when he first noticed the basketball courts at the Potomac Yard Park were without lights while the tennis courts had them.

He said he took to social media website Facebook to complain, and got a response from Vice Mayor Justin Wilson saying that something should be done. That planted a seed in Falk’s mind, and now he is at the forefront of a public-private partnership to light the basketball courts in the park at 2501 Potomac Ave.

Known as the Light it Up! The Potomac Yard Park Basketball Court Lighting Citizens Committee, the group is looking to raise $75,000 over three years towards the new lights, half its cost. The other half was set aside in City Manager Mark Jinks’ proposed 10-year capital improvement budget, something the committee learned of in March.

In addition, staff with the city’s department of parks, recreation and cultural activities told the group that the provision for lights is included in the original Development Special Use Permit, meaning that no further administrative action or approval from city officials is required.

“That’s one of the things that’s made putting this together so easy,” Falk said. “That’s what’s made it such an easy sell, certainly to the city manager and I hope to city council.”

The partnership’s continuation is contingent on council approving the budget with this line-item included. Councilors have begun the add/delete process, and are slated to give final approval to the operating and capital budgets at a special meeting May 5.

Meanwhile, the committee is in the final stages of drafting a memorandum of understanding with the city promising to raise the funds if the item remains in the budget. Falk said it has been a simple process to follow thus far, as it is not without precedent in the city.

“We just followed the existing models for stuff that had been done before, because why re-invent the wheel?” he said. “We can redo stuff that’s been successful.”

In addition, Falk said the committee has an agreement in principle with ACT for Alexandria, a community foundation that looks to increase charitable giving in the city. Falk said ACT for Alexandria would partner as a repository for funds that are raised towards the project, meaning that money could be used only for the lights.

To raise the money, Falk said the committee has various ideas for how it can be done, “some more pie in the sky than others,” he said. One fundraising idea that Falk floated is a possible three-on-three basketball tournament in the summer, while corporate and nonprofit sponsorship also is being actively explored.

“Obviously if we can grab huge chunks of money in a hurry without having to have an additional sweetener to it, that’s secondary to the main goal,” Falk said. “And [that] shouldn’t get in the way of the main goal, which is to make sure that we get the lights installed so that all residents can enjoy the courts.”

The committee’s hopes are contingent on the city approving the $75,000 appropriation for the lights. Falk said the focus right now is on planning their moves so they can make progress as quickly as possible, with the draft MOU set to be finalized Friday. Meanwhile, others are looking to use existing connections or forge new ones with existing organizations, including the Greater Washington, Alexandria-Olympic Boys and Girls Club.

“From that time to May, basically what we decided to do was get all of our ducks in a row and beating a drumbeat so that we can hit the ground running as soon as the project is in place,” Falk said.

Wilson said the public-private partnership is something that has been done across the city for various projects, and is a good way to get the community involved.

“We’re doing it with Chinquapin, where the council budgeted money and the community has to raise $2.5 million in that case,” Wilson said. “We did it with some improvements made to [Hume Springs Park] and the Four Mile Run Farmers’ Market. These are all examples of uses in our parks and public spaces where the city is partnering with private folks to make things happen that in difficult budget times otherwise wouldn’t happen.”

As for the courts themselves, advocates say new lights will be of great benefit.

“As the city manager explains in the draft budget, the basketball courts have become very well used since being built,” Falk wrote in a letter to city council that was provided to the Times. “The addition of proper lighting will ensure that this already popular attraction becomes safer and more accessible, improving the quality of life in Alexandria by promoting citizens’ health and welfare. We have the collective will, and with the matching funds in the budget, are confident that together we can find the money.”