What a year this was!
When the much-delayed Potomac Yard Metro station opened amid fanfare in May, little did the public know what was hurtling down those newly opened tracks situated above several acres of wetlands.
Less than seven months later came the staggering announcement that Ted Leonsis was moving the Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals and his Monumental Sports & Entertainment headquarters to the land most directly adjacent to the new station. The new arena and headquarters are slated to anchor a planned new Alexandria entertainment district.
Pushback to the announcement began immediately. In fact, protestors could be heard outside the tent while Gov. Glenn Youngkin and local dignitaries were celebrating the proposal with media and supporters inside.
Within a day, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which operates Metro, had an announcement of its own: That it hadn’t been consulted about the new arena and Metro isn’t capable of handling the projected crowds at a Potomac Yard arena. Those opposed to the proposal also began circulating articles purporting to prove that sports arenas are always a drag on local economies and that the proposed arena site would be subject to flooding from the Potomac River.
Next year promises to be fascinating as more details about the pros and cons of the proposed arena come to light.
In between the two Potomac Yard events came debate about, then passage of the also controversial “Zoning for Housing/Housing for All” initiative. City Council unanimously approved the initiative on November 28 after an amendment proposed by Vice Mayor Amy Jackson and seconded by Councilor John Taylor Chapman that would have separated out the elimination of single family zoning failed by a 5-2 vote, with Mayor Justin Wilson and Councilors Canek Aguirre, Sarah Bagley, Alyia Gaskins and Kirk McPike voting against the amendment.
Alexandria, like many cities around the country, also experienced a crime spike during 2023. Residents were left on edge by increased shootings, stabbings, carjackings, break-ins, flagrant armed robberies of retail stores during daylight hours and gang markings left on homes, signs and other buildings throughout the city.
The Alexandria Police Department was on the defensive after an early September attempted abduction in Old Town went unreported to the public for two weeks. It was revealed that APD had not followed up to obtain security video of the incident that a nearby business had offered the day after the incident.
APD continued to deny any lapses in its handling of the incident, though a new director of communications was brought in immediately following this incident. The suspect was eventually apprehended and charged four weeks after the assault took place.
Significant city personnel changes are afoot in numerous other areas.
Alexandria Fire Department Chief Corey Smedley announced on November 30 that he will be resigning from his position in January, after four years at AFD’s helm. City Attorney Joanna Anderson announced in June that she will be retiring at the end of 2023. Deputy City Manager Debra Collins retired on July 1 and was replaced by Department of Transportation and Environmental Services Director Yon Lambert, who, in turn was replaced at the helm of T&ES by Adriana Castaneda.
Changes are also looming in 2024 among Alexandria’s elected officials, as Mayor Justin Wilson announced on December 1 he will not be seeking reelection next year. Within a week, both current Vice Mayor Amy Jackson and Councilor Alyia Gaskins announced their candidacies for mayor, guaranteeing that in addition to a new mayor, Alexandria will also be electing at least two new Council members next year.
Alexandria City Public Schools also underwent change in 2023 as the interim title was removed from Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D., and Minnie Howard Principal Alexander Duncan III was promoted to replace the departing Peter Balas as executive principal of Alexandria City High School.
Alexandria’s School Board also experienced turnover as Michelle Rief, Ph.D., was elected Board chair, replacing Meagan Alderton, who remained on the Board. In addition, School Board member Willie Bailey resigned in November. He will be replaced following a special election in January 2024.
ACPS continues to deal with ongoing student behavioral issues, including frequent fights and continuing student overdoses. The district received good news, however, from student performance in the state Standards of Learning tests. ACPS improved over its scores from last year in four of the five testing categories.
In other school news, Bishop Ireton High School is undergoing a $4 million renovation of its chapel in its “Honor our Faith and Build on Tradition” campaign.
It was an exciting summer in Alexandria as the Alexandria Aces, our city’s entrant in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League, reached the league championship for the third straight year under Coach Chris Berset. The Aces set a league record along the way, with an .833 regular season winning percentage. After winning the league championship last year, the Aces fell this season to nemesis Bethesda Big Train in the championship series.
The Times also reported in 2023 on world events that impacted Alexandrians. The devastating earthquake in February was explained to readers in a Times interview with a former ambassador to Turkey who lives in the city. A current Alexandria resident was one of 222 political prisoners who were released from prisons controlled by Nicaraguan ruler Daniel Ortega in February. And we interviewed four Alexandria residents following the October Hamas attack in Israel.
As we turn to 2024, it’s difficult to foresee a less tumultuous year ahead, with contentious local and national elections looming. We promise to report on all of that, but to also bring you news about good and unifying people and events as well.
Next year will be a special one for our paper, as we will celebrate our 20th year of bringing you Alexandria’s local news. We express a special thank you to our loyal advertisers, without whom our free publication would not exist.
We are excited about our plans to highlight both our most loyal longtime advertisers and to look back on these last 20 years throughout 2024. Stay tuned for updates on these plans.
We at the Alexandria Times wish you a happy holiday season and a healthy New Year. See you on January 4.