Old Town Alexandria Developers Look To Better Utilize River, Attract More Young People
When Alexandria native and Rappaport Executive Director of Brokerage Bill Dickinson was a child, his parents would warn him not to touch the water in the Potomac River. Now when he walks down to the waterfront, he sees people water skiing and enjoying the river, and he thinks that can be an important driver of Old Town's future growth.
"We spent 50 years being embarrased by the river," Dickinson said. "Now we're embracing the river. It’s a huge step forward. It’s been a long time coming."
Several new developments are planned along Old Town's waterfront that will bring new housing, hotels, restaurants and other amenities to the area, such as Carr Cos.' new Hotel Indigo, EYA's planned Robinson Landing and the future development of the 25-acre Potomac River Generating Station. Dickinson, speaking at Bisnow's Future of Alexandria event at the George Washington Masonic National Memorial Thursday, said waterfront development will be key to attracting more young people to Old Town.
"It's really important that retail comes to the river," Dickinson said. "The river is the future of this environment. As it relates to millennials, people are looking for experience, they're looking for authenticity, and there's nothing more authentic than the riverfront experience."
Alexandria, which boasts that it is an older city than D.C., has faced increased competition in recent years from new developments along the District's waterfront, such as The Wharf and Capitol Riverfront, plus the National Harbor development across the river in Maryland.
"The piece that Alexandria hasn't enjoyed that Georgetown has had and now The Wharf has is the immediate connection to the water and the touch points," LandDesign principal Gabriela Cañamar said. "There were just bite-sized bread crumbs along the waterfront for a long time, so this [development] is going to change that dynamic incredibly."
In addition to the 120-room Hotel Indigo it delivered on the waterfront last year, featuring restaurant Hummingbird Bar & Kitchen, Carr Cos. is planning two projects in Old Town North. The developer is adding density to the parking lot of the Crowne Plaza Hotel at 901 North Fairfax St. with 40 townhouses. It is also converting the MetroStage theater into at least 90 multifamily units with a large arts component, and plans to move the theater to the Crowne Plaza site. Carr's Austen Flajser said the city is making progress, but needs to create more attractions to bring in the younger generation.
"Alexandria is a great place to raise a family, and millenials are growing up and starting to raise families, but it needs a little more fun to attract people of all ages," Flajser said. "It takes ground-floor, walkable retail. It takes programming rooftops with modern amenities that you've seen in every other market but has been slow to make it to this market."
Along Alexandria's Eisenhower Avenue corridor, developers are planning several projects with much greater density than what is envisioned for Old Town, such as StonebridgeCarras' Wegmans-anchored Hoffman Town Center project and JM Zell's Carlyle Plaza Two development, and they are also looking for strategies to draw in millennials.
Cooper Carry principal Steve Smith, who is designing Perseus TDC's conversion of an office building at 200 Stoval St. into 520 apartments, said the area should be turned into an entertainment district to attract new residents. He compared it to Bethesda Row and Crystal City's Crystal Drive, two projects he also worked on.
"Pulling that retail out to the street can add vibrancy to the street and makes it feel like people want to be there," Smith said. "If some sort of entertainment district gets added to all this, it gives another reason to live there and for people in the office world that are looking for all those amenities as well."