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Historic Ship To Permanently Dock In Alexandria, Expected To Boost Waterfront Businesses

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Alexandria has been pushing to boost activity along its waterfront to support Old Town's businesses, and a new attraction it will unveil next year is expected to draw thousands of visitors. 

Providence ship Alexandria
The replica of the Providence that will dock on the Alexandria waterfront

A replica of the Providence, one of the first American ships in the Revolutionary War, will permanently dock next to Alexandria's new waterfront park beginning in June. 

The nonprofit group responsible for bringing the ship to Alexandria, the Tall Ship Providence Foundation, estimates it will draw 75,000 visitors annually to the variety of events and programming it will host. Those visitors should have a significant impact on hotels and restaurants along Old Town's waterfront, said Tall Ship Providence Foundation Chairman Scott Shaw, who is also the head of Alexandria Restaurant Partners. 

"It creates a focal point along with the city's new park on the waterfront," said Shaw, whose group owns nine Alexandria restaurants. "The combination of those two developments is going to create reasons for people to come down here and things for people to do when they come down here." 

The ship will offer tours with guides in Revolutionary War-era clothing discussing the ship's history, and it will partner with Alexandria middle schools for educational programming. The original Providence, under the command of the father of the U.S. Navy, John Paul Jones, was the first American ship to fire on a British warship. The historically accurate replica, built in 1975, has appeared in movies including "Master and Commander" and "Pirates of the Caribbean." 

The historical programming is modeled after Boston's popular Boston Tea Party ship experience with one major difference: the Providence can still sail. 

On Friday nights, the ship will have craft beer cruises sponsored by Alexandria-based Port City Brewing. Family cruises on Saturday and Sunday will take groups down the Potomac to see Mount Vernon. Groups can also reserve the ship for private gatherings such as weddings and charity events. 

The project to acquire, restore and dock the ship is expected to cost about $3.3M, Shaw said, and several local businesses are partnering to support the effort. The city is pitching in another $350K to build the dock. 

Alexandria waterfront park
The map of the Alexandria waterfront park showing where the Providence will be docked

The ship will dock next to the Alexandria's new waterfront park, which is set to open with a three-day festival starting Oct. 12. The festival will feature a waterfront beer garden, which will also open the following two weekends, plus live music and a pop-up pizzeria.

"There was challenge and opportunity of leveraging two things: the opening of the waterfront park at the intersection of King Street and the waterfront and the arrival of the tall ship in June," Visit Alexandria President Patricia Washington said. "It was that opportunity to present these two new happenings in Old Town as part of the whole marketing and beautification and activation initiative."

Officials believe the park's opening and the introduction of the ship will help Alexandria compete for regional visitors and tourism with other emerging waterfronts in the D.C. area, such as The Wharf, Capitol Riverfront and National Harbor. A new water taxi introduced last year allows visitors to travel between Georgetown, The Wharf, Alexandria and National Harbor. Alexandria officials expect the increased activity from the park and the ship will draw more visitors to its waterfront and improve the performance of Old Town's hotels. 

During the June 2015 temporary visit of the ship Hermione, Alexandria experienced an 85% increase in hotel occupancy, its best month since 2005, according to the Tall Ship Providence Foundation. Average daily rate was up 11% during that month and revenue per available room was up 14.3%. Temporary visits have also created 50% to 100% bumps in area restaurant sales, according to the group. 

Multiple new hotels have recently opened or are in the works near the Old Town waterfront. Carr Cos. delivered its 120-room Hotel Indigo on the waterfront last year, and it is redeveloping the Crowne Plaza Hotel at 901 North Fairfax St. GME Investments is working to convert a three-story office building at 115 Union St. into a hotel with a restaurant. CAS Riegler is looking to convert an office building at 699 Prince St. into a 142-room hotel. 

"Our occupancy has been strong for four years in a row, and we’re proud of that," Washington said. "We see this helping us to continue that momentum."