Too important to prejudge

Too important to prejudge

To the editor: 

A Washington Post article in the January 2 Metro section regarding the proposal for a sports arena and entertainment venue in Potomac Yards read, “Arena plans stir up Va. City.” We are that “Va. City” and, yes, that has most definitely stirred things up, but color me Switzerland … so far. 

If ever there was a project that deserved the mantra, “The devil is in the details,” this would be it. There is far more that we don’t know than that which we do. But this is not the “Redskins” Stadium redux and we do ourselves a disservice if we use that comparison. 

In 1992, when that plan was shoved in our faces, the land where the stadium was to be built was owned by the Virginia Retirement System, and, as a consequence, Alexandria had no say in the decision-making. That stadium proposal was presented as a “fait accompli” whether we liked it or not. 

Fast forward more than 30 years and nothing will happen without approval from both the General Assembly and City Council. Now, there is a Metro station and an improved road plan – improved should not be confused with great – for Richmond Highway. In 1992, traffic on the then-named Jefferson Davis Highway was bad on a good day. 

Now there is a proposed arena for 20,000 people, not a 78,000-seat football stadium – a disaster looking for a place to happen if ever there was one. I was a member of City Council at that time, but the real credit for defeating this goes to the most engaged, organized, effective, aggressive community uprising I think we have ever experienced in Alexandria. The old 1960’s slogan, “Power to the People” has never strayed far from our neighborhoods – it’s Alexandria, after all – and the degree of unanimity was unprecedented in our city’s history. 

Over the next year or so, we should be asking a lot of questions and getting answers; we should be vetting the various claims about the economic benefits and costs; we should be assessing the risk-return to taxpayers for going forward or not. We should also remind ourselves of an old political saying, “Nothing is ever as good as it seems or as bad as it seems.” 

The local elected and appointed officials who have been involved in these negotiations are motivated by the need to strengthen our long-term economic foundation and we deserve the opportunity to see the process evolve in a constructive and civilized manner. Final support or opposition should come from objective facts and conclusions. 

This is too important to prejudge. 

-David G. Speck, former member, Alexandria City Council; former delegate, Virginia House of Delegates