Our View: Poised for big things

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Portside in Old Town in October (Photo Credit: Sam Kittner/Visit Alexandria)
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Two pieces of recent economic news, one looking back and the other forward, highlight how exciting this juncture is in Alexandria.

The first is a study that shows tourist spending – defined as expenditures by those coming from at least 50 miles away – increased by 3.9 percent in Alexandria in 2018 over 2017. The study, released this month by the Virginia Tourism Authority, revealed tourist spending reached $859 million in 2018, up from $826 million in 2017.

Additionally, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce released its 2020 legislative agenda last week, and its emphasis is on looking forward to the opening of the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus in 2024. Among the chamber’s priorities for next year are breaking ground on the Potomac Yard Metro Station, expanded collaboration with Alexandria City Public Schools on internships, improved wayfinding for parking, increased public-private partnerships and making progress toward attaining 5G internet coverage.

Combined, what do these pieces of news mean for Alexandria and those who live here?

In a nutshell, what’s long been an economic strength, tourism, remains robust, while exciting new opportunities loom. The dilemma remains how to balance this growth – in visitors, businesses and residents – with retaining the essence of Alexandria that drew everyone here in the first place.

It’s essential that our city leaders acknowledge there’s a need for balance, that they make clear their pursuit of growth is tempered by sensitivity to keeping our city livable and drivable. And that they understand it’s not unreasonable for residents of Old Town and Del Ray in particular, given their proximity to restaurants and bars, to want to minimize drunken visitors roaming their neighborhoods at 2 a.m.

We are particularly heartened that the chamber document mentioned parking improvements as one of that organization’s goals for 2020. The chamber obviously recognizes that city businesses will fail if people can’t find their way to ample parking in order to patronize shops, restaurants and service providers.

While the Virginia Tech campus remains more goal than reality at this point, its 2024 opening is actually not that far away, and the chamber is correct to direct considerable planning focus to its arrival.

It would be wonderful for ground to break on the new Metro stop in 2020 as the chamber advocates – but not until environmental questions about the site have been addressed. The State Water Control Board unanimously approved the Virginia Water Protection permit for the Potomac Yard Metro station at its Sept. 6 meeting, but the project still requires a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It’s important to remember that, in pursuit of growth and the tax dollars that will bring, we can’t toss aside long-time city priorities such as environmental protection and historic preservation.

As part of their job, city leaders plan for the future. Pieces of economic good news such as rising tourist spending and an incoming, game-changing entity like Virginia Tech make that future appear promising and exciting.

We just need to remember, amid the excitement and planning, what made us special to begin with.

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