A group of citizens seeking an alternative to a city-proposed plan to redevelop Alexandria’s waterfront are busily crafting a report for the Waterfront Work Group that it hopes can serve as a guide for the group’s decision-making process.
Members of the Citizens for an Alternative Alexandria Waterfront Plan have split into 12 groups, which are focusing on different aspects of the waterfront such as flood mitigation, grant funding resources, and parking and traffic issues.
“Some people have painted our group as a group that wants to do nothing and leave everything the way it is,” said CAAWP co-founder Boyd Walker. “We’re trying to prove by doing this work that we’re not for maintaining the status quo. We know the [Robinson] terminal sites are going to change, but we just want them to develop in different directions.”
Walker added that he has “real hope” that the Waterfront Work Group’s deliberations will benefit the city. However, the CAAWP can augment the group's efforts, he said.
“We can do things that they can’t do," Walker said. "The council and the Working Group can’t travel to cities around the country.”
Old Town resident Hugh Van Horn said he joined the all-volunteer CAAWP after its leaders, Walker and Andrew Macdonald, organized a June protest of the city’s plan to revamp the waterfront.
“My wife and I hadn’t heard much about this before, and we thought what can we do to support this organization,” said Van Horn, a former university professor who holds a doctorate degree in astrophysics and is retired from the National Science Foundation. “We think it’s a worthy cause. We don’t want to see the waterfront degenerate into a commercial establishment.”
Van Horn joined the group’s “Other Cities” committee, which is spending the summer researching and sometimes traveling to cities that have undergone waterfront redevelopment.
One of many examples Van Horn has researched is Wilmington, Del., which has a population of about 73,000 compared to Alexandria’s 140,000. Wilmington, he noted, hosted a governor-appointed task group, which suggested establishing a nonprofit organization to oversee development and to raise funds to support it.
“The effort got state support and private support that cleaned up the riverfront, the environment of the river and built performing arts centers, museums, restaurants, a conference center off the waterfront and includes a tall ship honoring Delaware’s early Swedish settlers,” said Van Horn, who acknowledged that it’s not clear if “that experience would translate” to Alexandria but it’s not an approach the city has investigated.
Other cities that members have analyzed include Beaufort, N.C. (pop. 46,000).; Cleveland, Ohio (pop. 400,000); Philadelphia (pop. 1.5 million); Pittsburgh, Pa. (pop. 306,000); Corpus Christi, Texas (pop. 305,000); and Wilmington, N.C. (pop. 106,000).
“We’re trying to encourage that we not jump immediately into commercial development but ask the citizens of Alexandria what would we like to see and how do we go about it,” he said.
The CAAWP’s Grants Group subcommittee seeks to ensure that parks and arts are the central focus of Alexandria’s waterfront. They’re also on a mission to identify and pursue grants opportunities with foundations, state and federal agencies as well as other donors to secure more open space and arts venues.
Grants Group member Leigh Talbot expressed concern that the city’s proposed plan does not incorporate any outside funding resources, adding that her group already has identified at least 30 such groups that might provide funds for waterfront redevelopment. She cited Cleveland and Jamestown, Va., as examples of cities that have benefitted by “being creative financially.”
Member Kathryn Papp calls the current waterfront “an authentic mix of the eclectic and the urbane” that would be “devastated by the proposed hotels on the river."
While Margaret Wood sees an amendment to the state Constitution as the foundation for what many of CAAWP members hold true – the inherent value of parkland.
Since the city has never fully vetted this vision, according to Wood, “it has become incumbent upon the citizens to do the real analysis” to find and tap resources enabling its citizens to understand how to proceed.”
CAAWP intends to present a draft report to the mayor-appointed Work Group in early September and to any interested local civic associations.
City Councilman Paul Smedberg, who is a nonvoting member of the Waterfront Work Group, said he will read this and “any report, email or comment” on the issue and hopes that other work group members will too.
CAAWP issued a press release on Monday notifying the city’s mayor and council of its concern that the Work Group was moving within such a tight timeline, it may not be able to adequately process new and alternative information. It held its inaugural meeting in July with its second meeting scheduled for Aug. 10.
“I think the only chance of this work group succeeding is that they work with CAAWP,” Walker said in an interview last week, adding, “We intend to keep pressure on the city to make the right decision. “We’ve gotten citizens involved in the process. Citizens like Hugh who wouldn’t have been involved otherwise.”
Smedberg responded that there are a lot of people in the community that have various views, which will all be considered, adding that “the city has considered a lot of factors and alternatives in regards to the waterfront’s redevelopment and to say that other factors haven’t been considered is inaccurate.”