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One Big Question: Can A Revitalized Waterfront District Bring More Millennials To The Area?

Alexandria waterfront

While neighborhoods around Washington, D.C., celebrate Oktoberfest with seasonal food and German beer, Alexandria will be putting on its own festivities. 

From Oct. 12 to Oct. 14, a waterfront festival will feature a beer garden, a pop-up restaurant and live music. The festival, which has been named Portside in Old Town to reflect its waterfront location, is part of the King Street Corridor Initiative. 

The initiative is a public-private partnership between the city of Alexandria and Visit Alexandria. The neighborhood initially had plans to create a business improvement district, but the effort was dropped due to a lack of leadership and private sector backing, WTOP reported. The King Street Corridor Initiative, which aims to revitalize the waterfront and drive economic growth around King Street, resembles a BID even though it holds a different title. The partnership is supported by a number of local business partners, from Alexandria Restaurant Partners to Carr Hospitality

“This fall, Alexandria will realize the dramatic integration of its two biggest public assets — the waterfront and its historic retail corridor, King Street,” President and CEO of Visit Alexandria Patricia Washington said in a statement. “The goal of the King Street Corridor Initiative is to maintain a thriving downtown and celebrate the opening of our new waterfront park in a way that is cost-effective, leveraging existing resources and expertise wherever possible.”

The initiative also aims to drive tourism. Over 70% of Alexandria’s retail, food and lodging tax revenue comes from visitors to the area, Washington said. 

Street in Old Town Alexandria

The city’s plans to revitalize the riverfront have been long in the making. The Washington, D.C., suburb has not seen the same level of development as other waterfront neighborhoods in the area, like Georgetown and Capitol Riverfront. More recent developments around the Wharf and National Harbor have added increased competition for Alexandria. The King Street Corridor is bringing local businesses, developers and public sector officials together to further develop the area. 

Like any neighborhood, there are pros and cons to living in Alexandria. The city is older than D.C. and boasts a historic charm missing in many of D.C.’s newer communities. But it is also often overlooked because it is outside the city. Its identity as a suburb gives people the sense that it lacks the cultural opportunities enjoyed by its D.C. counterparts. 

"Alexandria is a great place to raise a family, and millennials are growing up and starting to raise families, but it needs a little more fun to attract people of all ages," Carr Cos.’ Austen Flajser said at Bisnow’s Future of Alexandria event. "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." 

The Waterfront has seen several new developments break ground over the past few years, and a number of retail, hospitality and multifamily assets are making waves in the area. By bringing retail to the waterfront, the city and its development partners hope to attract more residents to Alexandria.

"It's really important that retail comes to the river," Rappaport Executive Director of Brokerage Bill 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."