Robinson Terminal North project put on hold

Robinson Terminal North project put on hold

By Chris Teale (File photo)

The redevelopment of Robinson Terminal North, a key component in the city’s waterfront plan, has been put on hold by developers Rooney Properties and CityInterests, Inc.

Kenneth Wire, partner with law firm McGuireWoods LLP, sent a message Friday to members of the waterfront commission and the ad hoc monitoring group on waterfront construction announcing the delay.

“While the owner is proceeding with environmental testing as outlined in the community meeting on May 25, demolition and construction work is now on hold as ownership evaluates design and economic alternatives,” Wire wrote in an email to members of the two groups.

Wire said in an interview that a combination of high construction costs and the market’s unfavorable response to the proposed development led to the decision. He said after an extensive marketing campaign, developers Rooney Properties and CityInterests Inc. were unable to secure a hotel tenant on the site, which means the project cannot proceed as intended.

“As a result, we are currently considering a number of options that better reflect the market demands while providing substantial benefit to the city and community,” the developers said in a statement. “As owners of the property, we are committed to working closely with the community and the city of Alexandria as we evaluate all options to en- sure we deliver a first class development that complements the beauty of the neighbor- hood, respects the historical context of Old Town Alexandria, and delivers on the commitment to provide the missing link in the Old Town Alexandria linear waterfront park.”

City council approved the redevelopment plan in October 2015, a revised proposal designed by Hickok Cole Architects after the original version submitted in 2014 was criticized by city planners. The area on North Union Street was slated to house 66 multi-family residential units, a 132- room hotel, 25,000 square feet of commercial space and four restaurants with a total mix of 500 indoor and outdoor seats.

In addition, the developers had promised to contribute to amenities, including a public pier, and other open spaces and public benefits. Vice Mayor Justin Wilson said a scaled-back development likely will affect those public spaces.

“A big part of the whole vision of the waterfront plan was leveraging that private development to bring public good to the waterfront, so to the extent that some of the private development does not happen, it limits our ability to implement the full vision of the public amenities for the waterfront,” he said. “In this case, a new open space and active space that could be used by the community as well as dollars from the developer for a lot of other public improvements in the waterfront corridor [are in jeopardy].”

Waterfront redevelopment has been a contentious issue in the city for years, both before and after city council approved the waterfront small area plan in 2012, and then again the following year. Council approved the Carr Hospitality-owned Hotel Indigo at 220 S. Union St. and the nearby Robinson Terminal South, to be carried out by developer EYA. Construction on the Hotel Indigo is underway, while work on Robinson Terminal South is expected to begin imminently.

The approvals brought significant opposition from some neighbors. Yvonne Weight Callahan, president of the Old Town Civic Association, said this setback could present an opportunity to revisit Robinson Terminal North and refine the project further.

“In an ideal world, I’d like to take us back to the fact that this was the original spot for Alexandria,” she said. “Why don’t we look at that again, and ask ourselves, is that a kick-off point for a development? I’m not necessarily saying that it should be going back to just parks or parkland, but how could we make it look like something that has been there for a long time?

“…I think that if we looked again at our commercial heritage, we might be able to come up with something that looks better than what we’ve got, something more evocative of what might have been there in the first place.”

Bert Ely, vice president of the neighborhood group, said he hoped that a re-examination of the project would include looking at its architecture.

“The design of the place seemed out of place for Old Town,” he said. “It just seemed like something you could see anywhere in the world, and nothing unique to Old Town. I think to the extent that there is a rethinking of the project in terms of the types of uses there, that hopefully one of the issues that will be reconsidered is the architectural design of it, the external appearance of it.”

Despite this announcement, officials remain confident that something can be done at the site.

“Robinson Terminal North is an ambitious and complicated project that is an important piece of the city’s adopted vision for a revitalized waterfront, and is critical in realizing our goal of connected public access along the entire shoreline,” said Stephanie Landrum, president and CEO of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, in a statement. “…We look for- ward to supporting the owners as they evaluate design and economic alternatives to make sure this site’s full potential is realized in the near future.”