Old Dominion Boat Club’s new home debuts on the waterfront

Old Dominion Boat Club’s new home debuts on the waterfront
The exterior of the Old Dominion Boat Club, which opened to members earlier this month (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

By Alexa Epitropoulos | aepitropoulos@alextimes.com

The Old Dominion Boat Club began a new chapter in its history this month when it relocated from its home of nearly a century to a new club on the waterfront.

The new building, located at the foot of Prince Street, opened to members on Jan. 12.

Construction on the new club began in late 2016 and was completed in late 2017, culminating decades of negotiation between the city and
the organization. In 2014, boat club members accepted a deal to trade their land to the city in exchange for the property they now occupy, in addition to $5 million to build a new clubhouse.

The offer came about after the city threatened to use eminent domain to seize the land. City council voted 6-1 in November 2013 to continue discussions with the boat club for 90 days in an attempt to resolve their issues, while also directing the city manager and the city attorney to initiate the eminent domain process for the property if an agreement could not be reached.

“There were three options – one was to move, one was to stay put and develop some sort of offer where we could survive there without the parking lot and the third one was eminent domain,” Old Dominion Boat Club President Richard Banchoff said.

Ultimately, 66 percent of the club’s members voted to make the land swap in 2014. Five months of intense negotiations followed, leading up to a final property exchange and sale agreement that was approved by city council and club membership.

After the terms of the land swap were green lit, members of the club’s board worked to create a design and pass hurdles posed by city permitting and the Board of Architecture Review for the Old & Historic District.

The old boat club building, built in 1924, was the second the club had used since its founding in 1880. The old facility was open for the last time on Christmas Eve and will officially be turned over to the city on Jan. 31, at the end of the allotted 60-day transition period. The building is slated for demolition this spring and the property will be converted into Fitzgerald Square Park over the coming years.

Carolyn Bell, past ODBC president and 2017 chair of the board, led the club’s transition effort after the design of the new club was completed.

Members eat lunch at the Old Dominion Boat Club on a recent Monday afternoon (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

“Not only were we officers of the club, but we were now all responsible for relocating everything that we were doing at
1 King St. over to the new location,” Bell said. “This became an incredible task for the board and we ended up … [meeting] four to five times a week.”

Consideration was given to every detail, said Bell and Marion Moon, longtime board member and governor of the board in 2015 and 2016.

“We discussed what kind of audio/visual system we wanted to use, what kind of security we wanted, what furniture we wanted to move versus what we wanted to buy, what kitchen we wanted.” Bell said. “We were responsible for everything that was going to be … inside of the club.”

“We decided to do vinyl flooring rather than wood because of some of the functions we do. As an example, we’ll have to do our crab feast inside because we lost most of our outside space. We knew if we were eating crabs on wood, it wouldn’t work, so we put vinyl flooring in,” Moon said. “That is just one example of what we did. There are thousands of them.”

Moon said the final result is a product of the efforts of nearly 100 volunteers from varying professional backgrounds.

“It takes a village to do almost anything and there were almost 100 people involved in our club, all volunteers, who tried to do the best we could for the entire membership of the club,” Moon said.

Bell said that was enhanced by the professional backgrounds of various members.

“What was incredible was we were very, very fortunate because we had smart people on our board. They had outside experience and were able to transition that expertise into this project,” Bell said.

The building’s final plan came in at a total of $9.5 million, and construction was completed on budget, Banchoff said.

The final product is a modern structure with floor-to-ceiling windows

The first floor deck is located adjacent to the ballroom (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

on the second floor taproom. The taproom is larger than that in the former ODBC building, and the ballroom on the first floor where members hold monthly meetings is smaller.

The new building also has several decks, including a large rooftop deck on the third floor and one off the ballroom.

The building debuted to members at a New Year’s Eve party and was on full display for the boat club’s first major event of the year, the club’s annual Board of Governors party and the Change of
Command, on Jan. 20.

Moon said the final result surpassed her expectations.

Lockers in the second floor of the Old Dominion Boat Club (Photo credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

“I did not expect it to be as spectacular as it is,” Moon said. “When you work from the ground up, you’re so focused on the smaller details and not on the finished product. When I walked into the taproom, it took my breath away.”

Bell said, when she looks back on her experience during the transition effort, she’s often amazed that the process went so quickly.

“Sometimes we would sit over at the new club when we first got in there and would say ‘it’s hard to believe that happened’ because it went so fast,” Bell said. “The year went fast because we were so busy. It’s hard to believe we’re there, but we’re very, very happy to be there.”

Banchoff said the club’s 960 members are almost uniformly pleased with the new facility.

“I think the overwhelming majority think it’s just a beautiful, beautiful building,” Banchoff said. “There’s been a significant response from all members … Since we’ve been open, the place has just been jammed with people coming in, just enjoying the club. We have spectacular decks where people can sit in nice weather. Since we’ve been there, I

The third floor deck of the Old Dominion Boat Club (Photo Credit: Alexa Epitropoulos)

haven’t heard any real complaints.”

Frank Fannon, a member of the club since 1993, said moving to the new building left him with mixed emotions.

“It’s a bittersweet transition because this is an end of a long era for the boat club,” Fannon said. “It will be a sad day when the building is taken down.”

But Fannon said boat club members are embracing this new chapter in their history.

“We know after 135 years on the Alexandria waterfront, we’re going to stay,” Fannon said.

Club members are also able to view the change with a sense of humor: The club’s new house beer is a tongueincheek nod to the circumstances of the move — Eminent Domain IPA.

The best victory, though, is staying close to where the Old Dominion Boat Club operated for nearly a century.

“It’s an adjustment because the old club pulls at your heart strings, but we’ll make new memories in our new club,” Moon said. “Thirty years from today, we won’t even remember the old club because we’ll think the new club is the best thing we’ve ever had … Time passes and people forget – that’s the nice thing about human nature.”