To the Editor:
As an Alexandria resident for more than 30 years, I was struck by the recent report on the , director of the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis.
Dr. Fuller apparently has ties to supporters of throwing the last riverfront open to virtually unrestricted commercial development. So it’s not surprising that a document put forward as impartial, expert analysis ends up supporting the outside developers.
What is surprising is that Fuller’s analysis actually makes the case for a more careful, balanced approach – one that will bolster Alexandria’s whole economy by preserving the things that make it uniquely attractive to businesses and residents alike.
First, he recognizes that, in his words, “for Alexandria, the waterfront stands out as its most unique asset that distinguishes it from the region’s other jurisdictions.” He calls it “one of the competitive advantages upon which the city’s future economic vitality is dependent.”
Second, he says, for “the ultimate success of the local economy...each new use must support the other new uses and must be complementary to the existing commercial and residential uses that define Old Town.” Exactly.
Yet the proposal pending before the City Council does nothing to insure that the new pieces fit together and strengthen the economy now or in the future. Instead, it offers a blank check to developers to build hotels, offices and new condos with no binding curbs on size, traffic or density.
As a result, Fuller’s conclusions contradict his own analysis, not to mention present-day reality. “For the Old Town economy to grow and prosper,” he says, “it needs to reestablish its retail base, and broaden its overlapping market segments to attract a diverse consumer base.”
But Old Town already has a thriving retail base and attracts a wide range of visitors. It also has one of the strongest real estate markets in the United States. And both the businesses and the residential areas serve and enrich all of Alexandria.
That’s an inconvenient fact for developers who want to make a quick hit and won’t be around for the consequences.
What this whole issue comes down to is a strategic choice for the city: It can build on its present success, or it can chase the will o’ the wisp of mega-development -- like Tysons Corner or National Harbor.
Large-scale development -- multiple hotels, conventions, big condo projects and big new stores – made sense for Tysons and PG County. They occupy huge parcels of empty land that nobody had reason to visit.
Alexandria is nothing like that. It has a well established, growing economy based on its unique attractions.
The challenge is to keep the city growing without killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
And in arguing for a quick decision, Fuller sounds more like a salesman than a scholar: Grab this deal, he says, before it’s too late.
Alexandria has time to do its future right, developing the remaining waterfront just the way Fuller says we should: Carefully, so all the pieces fit together and make the whole even stronger than it is now. Only the outside developers are in a hurry.
But it’s not their city. And it’s not their future. It’s ours.
Richard T. Cooper