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A rare glimpse inside Alexandria’s abandoned and overgrown GenOn power plant

Nine years after closing, the GenOn plant is an otherworldly scene reminiscent more of Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker” than the dense city-scape surrounding it.

Old railroad carts are rusted and mummified in vines. Trees burst through old offices. It’s an abandoned, contaminated wilderness that Hilco Redevelopment Partners is hoping to turn into a sprawling mixed-use development.

At a tour today, Hilco staff outlined some of the challenges — and opportunities — of redeveloping the former power plant.

The first obstacle lies in clearing away environmental issues. As a former industrial site, the soil will require significant remediation efforts from leaky storage tanks that have bled pollutants into the soil.

In terms of development, the primary x-factor is how much leeway Hilco will be able to get from its neighbors.

To the west, the site is bordered by a Norfolk Southern rail line that’s been out of use for years, but is still owned by the rail company.

Melissa Schrock, senior vice president of mixed-use development for Hilco, said Norfolk Southern has expressed an openness in the past to divest from the rail line. The company selectively participates in the “Rails-to-Trails” program, and Schrock said the city’s current envisioning for the rail line is as a linear park.

On the eastern side of the site, the GenOn plant is separated from the Potomac River by the Mount Vernon Trail, which is overseen by the National Park Service. While ultimately the developer hopes to do more to integrate the Trail into the site, Schrock said it’s too early to say if that will be possible.

“We’re very early in discussions with the Park Service,” Schrock said.

Lastly, there is a Pepco substation at the center of the property. The substation provides power to D.C. and is still active, meaning that it won’t be going anywhere despite development coming up around it. Schrock said the goal is to build something that will screen the facility from the surrounding development.

Schrock said that the substation can be utilized as a community asset in some way, although Pepco will have some say on the design.

“We’ve been working on a collaboration with Pepco and it’s been a great partnership,” Schrock said. “It’s too early to say what the screen will look like. We haven’t designed the screening but we want to turn it into an asset.”

Schrock said Hilco is planning to submit preliminary designs to the City of Alexandria in July with the first round of public comment to occur around in September.

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