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Potomac Yard arena deal challenges Alexandria’s values, says Councilman John Taylor Chapman

ALXnow will be running a series of City Council candidate interviews through the local election filing deadline on April 4.

City Councilman John Taylor Chapman says that he wants small businesses to come out on top, regardless of where the city lands with the $2 billion Potomac Yard arena deal.

Chapman says that it’s “interesting” that Alexandria is being considered for the arena, but that the deal has to be right for the city.

“I think we need to be poised, however we deal with the arena question, to attract business,” Chapman said in a recent interview. “We’re going to have the catalyzation of Potomac Yard. You’re going to be able to have smaller businesses and brands there, not just the national brand or the franchisee.”

He continued, “You are going to have people take a chance on Potomac Yard as a business concept. You don’t have to go very far to the Water Park development that JBG Smith just opened up in National Landing. That’s nothing but small businesses that came to the area. So, opening up opportunities for them happens when you have the catalyzation of that area.”

Like his Council colleagues, Chapman wants more city representation on the Virginia Stadium Authority board, which would own and finance the future home of the Washington Wizards and Washington Capitals. A House version of the bill to create the board was approved earlier this month, but the Senate version of the bill is currently stalled.

“We’ll see if it gets passed in the General Assembly,” Chapman said.

With 12 years of Council experience under his belt, Chapman is running for a fifth three-year term. Winning in the June 18 primary and general election in November would make him the senior member on the seven-person body.

“As Tysons Corner grows, how do we compete?” Chapman said. “As MGM and National Harbor grow, how do we compete? As tourism becomes more complex in the region, how do we compete? With the the challenges with office, how do we retain them? I think that’s the fight that we continue to be in.”

The Alexandria native said at his campaign kickoff last month that he’s a product of the rich and poor parts of the city. Chapman grew up with his single mother in public housing in Old Town, and also attended St. Stephens and St. Agnes School throughout middle and high school. He said that his upbringing reinforced a perspective that the city needs to protect its poor and elderly residents.

“I got to see the different side of Alexandria that many of us don’t really get to see and be a part of,” Chapman said. “During the day I went to school with some of the more wealthy folks in our community, and I was also in a community of folks who were trying to make ends meet.”

Chapman said that the city’s recent property tax assessments will mean that Council will have to consider cutting city services in the upcoming fiscal year 2025 budget. He also says that the city will have to keep converting office buildings into apartment buildings.

“It means for this year’s budget that we’re gonna have to look at cuts around city services,” Chapman said. “We need to continue to press on how we deal with losses in the commercial, particularly the office building, sector. We’ve converted a number of old office buildings to residential, and I think that’s something that’s going to continue. I’m not sure that’s in the long-term best interests of the city, because we the cyclical nature of things, but where we are right now, I think it is how you decrease the pain of falling office values.”

Some of that pain could get eased with the right kind agreement on the Potomac Yard arena, but Chapman said that the project has to meet a number of benchmarks.

“I think it’s a project that like many others, hits on the value system of the city,” he said. “Whether it’s aligned with some of our climate goals, whether it’s aligned with our kind of multimodal way that we look at transportation, brings in appropriate revenue and catalyzes the opportunity to have different amenities and municipal supports like schools and affordable housing within a neighborhood, attracts small, medium and large businesses, ensures that the process has resident input and residents can see the changes made through their input, and I think is an overall win for the city.”

By day, Chapman is a community use specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools. A West End resident, he says that the biggest changes in his life since being elected in 2012 have been his marriage and the birth of his son.

He also founded the Manumission Tour Company in 2016, and provides walking and bus Black history tours around the city. He says that after this election year that the tours will expand to include the West End, as well as a more in-depth look at the city’s African American churches.

On public safety, City Council will eventually consider City Manager Jim Parajon’s choice for the open police and fire chief positions.

On hiring a new police chief, Chapman said that the city manager needs to look for community focused candidates who are diverse, policy driven and able to communicate well with city hall.

“I think you need somebody that is able to communicate with all of our communities,” he said. “I’m not looking for a specific background, but I’m looking for that ability.”

Chapman said that the city is losing a responsive communicator in outgoing Mayor Justin Wilson, and that the next mayor needs to be a collaborator who knows how government works and can bring together the city’s business and residential communities.

“Relationships mattered, particularly during the pandemic,” Chapman said. “And the ability for our mayor to get on the phone with the chair of Arlington and the chair of Fairfax County to talk about what the region needs and then being able to lean in as a region and say, ‘This is who we are, this is what our challenges are, this is what we need. How do we work together to solve that, you know, bringing, you know, internally within the city, bringing partnerships together.”

Chapman is also the unofficial “Night Mayor” of Alexandria, a position he styled for himself after D.C. and New York City’s nightlife mayors were hired to improve the night lives in their respective cities. He says he will focus more on the city’s nightlife after the election.

“Once this election is over, I think the focus is back on what does what does evening look like for Alexandria?” he said. “How do we maximize the experience for folks who don’t want to go home at 8 p.m.?”

One way, potentially, could be Chapman’s idea to open up the 200 block of King Street as a pedestrian-only zone. The move would mean expanding the pedestrian-only zone at Alexandria’s waterfront and going all the way up to City Hall’s Market Square (301 King Street). Chapman wants to introduce the measure into the FY 2025 budget.

“We’ve done the zero block and the 100 block (of King Street), and the 200 block is the next step,” Chapman said. “Now I’m talking to those retailers to see if I can get their buy-in.”

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