In this era of identity politics, the notion of compromise is often viewed as unacceptable. It seems many increasingly equate giving in a little on an issue with capitulation. That’s a shame, because in a republic such as ours, compromise is what prevents gridlock and makes all sides feel at least somewhat empowered.
The beautiful, newly opened Old Dominion Boat Club on Alexandria’s waterfront is what compromise looks like at the local level. It most emphatically shows that making concessions can work out just fine.
This positive outcome was not inevitable. Just four years ago, it appeared the city and boat club were headed for years of expensive lawsuits over the fate of the club’s parking lot and building. The standoff in late 2013 and early 2014 brought to a head the conflict that had been simmering since the 1970s.
To wit, the City of Alexandria had long wanted the boat club’s property at the foot of King Street to use for civic purposes.
Negotiations to trade the ODBC property for another city-owned waterfront location took place on and off for years. As far back as 1985 an agreement was reached for a property swap, but the deal fell through.
By late 2013, city leaders decided they had had enough, and City Attorney James Banks said that the city would consider all of its options moving forward, including the use of eminent domain. Both sides appeared dug in for a nasty and expensive fight.
It was at this point that members of the Waterfront Commission brokered the compromise that worked: the King Street ODBC building and parking lot in exchange for the vacant building at the corner of Prince Street and the Strand, in addition to $5 million to build a new club on the site.
This agreement was painful to both parties, the very definition of a successful compromise. On the city side, $5 million and a valuable waterfront property seemed a lot to give up.
From the perspective of many boat club members, no compensation was enough for them to relinquish their beloved and historic building, built in 1924, at the foot of King Street.
In the end, a majority of boat club members were convinced this was the best deal they were going to get and the measure narrowly passed in a vote by membership. Four years later, and as the story and photos on pages 5 and 6 show, the new boat club building is a gorgeous addition to Alexandria’s waterfront.
This process was not without anguish. Some still lies ahead – the day this spring when the old ODBC building is torn down will likely be the most painful day yet for club members. But the end result is an example that creative compromise can work – and that those who give some to get some are not sellouts.
While those who wield the levers of power in Alexandria generally seem more intent on pushing through their wishes and less inclined to listen and alter course, the ODBC experience proves that deals in which all sides win and lose are still possible. We hope so, because we need more compromise, both in Alexandria and across the Potomac River.