Residents will get the chance to enjoy a new park while construction goes on around the rest of the waterfront.
Changes are coming to the waterfront in Old Town Alexandria. The City of Alexandria is in the process of its Waterfront Plan Implementation, which was approved in 2014 and will include the installation of flood mitigation pieces and updates/renovations of waterfront areas.
Included in that plan is the area on the waterfront at King Street previously occupied by the Old Dominion Boat Club. Wedged in between the Boat Club’s parking lot and its building was a sliver of grass known as King Street Park. With the Boat Club making a deal with the city to move to a new location on Prince Street in exchange for the parking and building lots, Alexandria plans on converting King Street Park into something more befitting its name.
However, the flood mitigation part of the Waterfront Plan is taking priority and is estimated by city officials to last about 10 years. So the future, permanent King Street Park is on hold. But Alexandria isn’t letting the land sit vacant during that time. Construction is already in progress for the King Street interim park, with plans to open in the fall.
“We started to realize that the [Boat Club] building was going to be there and basically vacant for seven or eight years,” says Tony Gammon, deputy director for the City of Alexandria and manager of the waterfront project. “So we thought maybe there is a way to open this up very quickly and let the community enjoy the space now.”
The city raised $975,000 for the interim park, less than half of what Gammon says would typically be used for a new park space, so it required some creative workings of the budget to create a temporary setting that could still be a keystone of the waterfront.
As for the layout of the park: The grass area that previously made up the entirety of King Street Park will remain, and will be incorporated with a resurfaced area for a paved plaza, along with another plaza with a shade canopy in the spot of the former building foundation. The park space will open up the area for a better connection throughout the waterfront.
In addition, Gammon emphasizes that flexibility was a key in the park’s design, which includes movable plants, tables and other pieces.
“This is new open space for the city, so really we can’t plan for how it is going to be used,” Gammon says. “The idea was to make it as flexible as possible so we can see how the community utilizes the space; have it open for different types of activities.”
Some early ideas for what the space might be used for include an ice rink, fire pits in the winter, beer gardens and First Night fireworks. “Any number of things can be accommodated,” says Gammon.
One of those things is going to be a public art display. Alexandria’s Office of the Arts is taking advantage of the idea of an interim park by rotating new public art pieces in the space each year. A task force set up by the Office of the Arts has already selected Softlab, a collective from New York, to create the first piece. Softlab is expected to visit the area and meet with local residents to help inspire their project, which will be unveiled at King Street around cherry blossom season in 2019.
“We’re leveraging the idea of it being an interim site,” says Dianne Ruggerio, deputy director of Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities for the Office of the Arts. “It was a way for us to introduce public art to the community without it being permanent; without kind of scaring everybody. It will be interesting too to see how different artists react to the space and to see what they do with it.”
Another attraction set to take up residence near the park is a replica of The Providence, a sloop-of-war ship that was among the first ships in the Continental Navy and was commanded by historic Fredericksburg resident John Paul Jones. Tall Ship Providence Foundation, a nonprofit founded in 2017, acquired the ship and plan to dock it off of King Street Park starting in the summer of 2019. The goal of this project is to promote this symbol of American history and its maritime heritage through ship tours, immersive educational programs, cruises and events, says TSPF. TSPF is supported by local residents, businesses and individuals interested in naval, maritime and American Revolutionary War history.
Gammon says that construction on the permanent King Street Park could begin in about five to seven years—construction (for both the permanent and interim park) will be performed by OLIN. The interim park will stay open as long as possible, though.
The overall goal of King Street Park, according to Gammons, is connectivity that wasn’t available previously. “When [the park] opens up we will have a pretty connected riverfront that the city hasn’t seen in a long time.”