The city dodged a bullet

The city dodged a bullet
(Graphic/Jessica Kim)

To the editor:

Whereas the mayor, and all six City Council members – until Amy Jackson’s reversal – supported the idea of the Monumental Arena and seemed to treat it like a silver bullet that would solve all the city’s problems and long-term fiscal concerns with one project, it is my view that this was a chimera. A magic money tree that, like an oasis in the desert, might not lead to salvation or be a well from which everyone can drink. And like some trickster in a circus tent, it might lead to financial ruin by putting the city on the hook to cover the bill while straining city services beyond its capacity. In my opinion, the city dodged a bullet.

When one door is closed, it may be time to go back to the drawing board, and look back on how this happened and not make the same mistake again: the mistake of secret deal-making behind closed doors to decide our city’s future.

There must be an open process that is transparent and welcomes citizen participation. We also need to reevaluate the role of the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership. The director of economic development gets paid more than our city manager, and more than all our Council members combined.

The AEDP has its own offices with more than 10 staff members three blocks from City Hall, paid for by tax dollars, that can have meetings behind closed doors with developers and billionaires and decide what is best for the city. I don’t think we have moved city hall three blocks away and I don’t think we should.

In fact, I think Economic Development is a basic function of government and we should not have a private-public partnership which has gone too far to the private side. We need to bring it in from the cold and have a transparent process so that we can FOIA and apply public meeting laws to it.

Lastly, in the process of opposing the Arena, the one thing I’ve heard that people want and think we’ll need is a new public high school. Not all kids learn the same and our one high school is too big. We cannot bring people from all parts of the city and squeeze them into one high school and claim it is good enough for everyone, that one size fits all. Quality education that meets the needs of all our students with different learning styles and needs is imperative, especially with Alexandria’s projected population growth.

With Amazon and the Virginia Tech Innovation Campus next door, a STEM high school as good as Thomas Jefferson Governor’s School in Fairfax County could be built at the Arena site. The stadium site was going to be purchased from JBG for $130 million. We were going to spend $106 million on this project. Alexandria City High School cost $100 million.

We can build a world-class high school with the help of Amazon and Virginia Tech and make it something to be proud of. In 40 years, we may not have a sports team, but we will have some world-class educated students with great skills who want to give back to Alexandria. To me, that is a long-term investment worth making.

-Boyd Walker, Alexandria