Two events earlier this week heralded new directions in Alexandria.
First up was the announcement that the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus will be located directly north of the new Potomac Yard Metro Station, rather than on the Oakville Triangle site announced in the fall.
We think this is great news. The Oakville Triangle site, west of Route 1 and a hefty walk from the Potomac Yard Metro, always seemed a less-than-ideal location for the campus. At roughly half the size of the new site, Oakville was large enough for the Tech campus – but just barely – and there was little room for growth.
Locating the campus in Potomac Yard is a three-fer: it will enable Virginia Tech employees and students to easily access the new Metro station; it places Virginia Tech closer to the new Amazon HQ2, which should result in even greater integration between those two entities; and the 65 acres give Virginia Tech room to grow.
Also impressive was the announcement that the first students will arrive on campus in the fall of 2020, a little more than a year from now.
The second significant event was Tuesday’s Democratic primary election for Alexandria’s clerk of the court. Greg Parks won and will likely succeed Ed Semonian, who has served in the post for 40 years.
Parks easily defeated Ben Ortiz, who has worked for Semonian for the past 15 years. The Times did not endorse in this race, but we viewed both Parks and Ortiz as able successors to Semonian.
Semonian leaves behind a legacy of remarkable longevity and, more importantly, of courtesy and kindness. Parks is likely to bring needed modernization to the office and, in doing so, make the court more accessible and more transparent.
It’s important to hold onto what was valuable from Semonian’s tenure, to remember that personal touch shouldn’t become a casualty of needed technological updating.
As Alexandria’s longest serving office holder departs and we prepare for the brave new world of Amazon and Virginia Tech, it’s impossible to ignore the changes that have occurred in this city during the past 40 years.
When Semonian became clerk of court, Old Town was a run-down area, with brothels and houses far from considered charming – most were just old and unkempt. Del Ray was not the lively food and entertainment destination that it has become. The now-shuttered Landmark Mall on Alexandria’s West End, with three department stores anchoring the development, was considered ahead of its time.
While we make clear on these pages that we think Alexandria is being harmed by the current rush to increase housing density, it’s also a truism that change is inevitable.
The over-development of Old Town is harmful, but we think the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus is going to be good for our city. And this relocation makes it even better.