Alexandria, VA

Ever wonder what it feels like to sail around the Potomac River in a sloop of war? The Tall Ship Providence, which is a replica of the first naval warship commissioned by the Continental Congress in 1775, is open to the public for tours and cruises.

Tall Ship officially opened to the public over the July 4 weekend, and it was a fitting opening date for the 110-foot, 12 gun sloop of war. The replica, which was unveiled in time for the 1976 Bicentennial, is almost exactly like the original Providence, with the exception of an engine, electricity and some air conditioning in the Captain’s quarters.

Once on the ship, visitors will meet commanding officer Captain John Paul Jones (actor Jeremy Lawrence, who never breaks character), who will provide them with a tour of the ship and talk about how cramped life could be on such a small vessel with more than 70 other sailors. The sleeping arrangements, for instance, are uncomfortably close, as the galley was completely filled with hammocks.

“Indeed, that is a lot of men for a ship this size,” Jones said in a Scottish brogue. “But we must carry that many men so we can carry prize crews. Whenever we take a ship, we have to send sailors over to sail her into the nearest friendly port.”

The original Providence was destroyed to keep it from falling into the hands of the British in 1779, but throughout its tenure broke through a British naval blockade at Newport, captured 16 enemy ships and disrupted the fishing industry in Nova Scotia, which was a British food source.

The ship, which is sailed by a professional crew of five, has graced the Alexandria waterfront since arriving last summer. It took a little under a year to get U.S. Coast Guard and other inspections finished to ensure that the vessel was shipshape and ready to receive visitors.

Two hour-and-a-half-long cruises are currently available on Fridays and Saturdays from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and then from 6 to 7:30 p.m. The latter cruise includes beer and wine and light snacks.

“If all those sell out, we will then open up on Sunday and Thursday for cruises,” Clair Sassin, executive director of the Tall Ship Providence Foundation, told ALXnow. “In terms of charters, we’re open any day for a charter.”

The Tall Ship Providence Foundation also operates a visitor center and gift shop at One Cameron Street — underneath the Chart House Restaurant. The ship is ALX Promise certified, and the crew disinfects it after each voyage.

History lovers also can tune in every Tuesday with #TallShipTuesdays, which include stories from Jones and historical interpreters.

Staff photo by James Cullum

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Alexandria might not be celebrating the city and the country’s birthday with fireworks this year, but there are sill a number of ways to have fun on the fourth of July.

“Even with physical distancing, there are plenty of ways to enjoy a festive Fourth of July in Alexandria,” notes Visit Alexandria, the city’s tourism bureau. “Order special holiday meals like tri-colored tacos and ice cream delivery boxes from Alexandria’s restaurants. Celebrate with deals and happenings, from scavenger hunts to Fourth of July attire for pups, via independent boutiques and attractions.”

Here are some events around Alexandria on Saturday:

As previously reported, the city’s July 11 birthday celebration has been moved online to prevent the further spread of the coronavirus.

https://www.facebook.com/PorkBarrelBBQDelRay/photos/a.655496147823639/3263319887041239/?type=3&theater

Staff photo by James Cullum

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A global pandemic is not stopping forward progress on RiverRenew, a project that aims to overhaul the city’s sewer infrastructure that is annually dumps 11 million gallons of raw sewage into the Potomac River.

The project is the largest infrastructure project in the city’s history, with a price tag that increased last year to an estimated $464 million. The project recently cleared its environmental assessment by the National Park Service that was required because portions of the project run through Jones Point Park, George Washington Memorial Parkway and the bed of the Potomac River.

“The National Park Service (NPS) has completed an environmental assessment for Alexandria Renew Enterprises’ (AlexRenew) proposed RiverRenew project,” AlexRenew said in a press release. “The NPS (Regional) Acting Director… signed a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) for the RiverRenew environmental assessment on April 14, 2020.”

This #TunnelTakeoverTuesday, AlexRenew and the National Park Service announced the Finding of No Significant Impact…

Posted by Alexandria Renew Enterprises on Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The environmental assessment outlined several points of concern, like potential erosion and sediment, damage to historic parks, and noise generation. In each of these instances, however, the “no action” alternative that would result in continued dumping of sewage was considered more damaging and would violate legislation requiring the city to take action.

City Manager Mark Jinks said in a recent budget meeting that the project, being managed by AlexRenew, is not impacted by cuts made in the city’s budget.

The press release said that construction is planned to start this December — slightly earlier than had been initially scheduled — and is expected to last through mid-2025.

Image via National Park Service

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Two women in kayaks were rescued from the Potomac River on Saturday by the Alexandria Fire Department’s Fire Boat 201, in addition to responders from U.S. Park Police and the Washington D.C. Harbor Patrol.

The incident occurred a little after 2 p.m. on Saturday. It was about 60 degrees that day with 20 mile-per-hour winds, and the young women were having trouble getting their kayaks upright, according to AFD.

“They were both wearing life jackets and first responders were able to rescue them before they experienced serious distress in the water,” AFD spokeswoman Raytevia Evans told ALXnow. “Paramedics evaluated both patients to ensure they weren’t showing symptoms of hypothermia or other medical issues caused by the incidents. They were cleared by the paramedics and opted not to be transported to the hospital.”

Two weeks ago, the body of a District man was found floating in the Potomac downriver near Founders Park.

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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(Updated at 5:45 p.m.) — Alexandria Police have determined that the dead man found in the Potomac River on April 5 was a 51-year-old resident of Washington, D.C.

The body of an adult male, whose identity has not been released, was recovered from the Potomac River by the Alexandria Police and Fire Departments in the 300 block of North Union Street.

The man was not out boating, and no boat was recovered, according to police. It is also not clear if the death was accidental or self-inflicted, and how long the body was in the water.

“He was floating through the river against the rocks on the shore and that’s where he was recovered,” police spokesman Lt. Courtney Ballantine told ALXnow. “There is no threat to the public.”

An autopsy is underway, and the investigation is ongoing, Ballantine said.

Photo via Visit Alexandria/Facebook

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The Alexandria City Council has unanimously approved a license agreement to allow Potomac Riverboat Company’s water taxi to ferry commuters from the waterfront to the District Wharf in D.C.

The daily water taxi service, which begins on March 1, was first introduced to Alexandria during last summer’s Metro shutdown, and commuters will start sailing at 6 a.m.

“I’m glad we’re doing this,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson. “I look forward to personally doing it. It works out really well on council meeting days, because I can leave my car here (at City Hall) and take my boat from my day job directly here.”

Potomac Riverboat Company increased its water taxi fleet last April with the addition of four new yellow boats. It also runs the Cherry Blossom, Matthew Hayes, and other named vessels. A commuter pass valid from March 1 to Dec. 31 costs $295, and a round-trip ticket costs $10.

City staff maintain that water taxi commuters will not create parking issues in Old Town — a sticking point for Councilwoman Del Pepper.

“The more ways we can find to get people off our cement streets the better,” Pepper said. “I have for about a decade opposed this, and the reason has been because of concern that our streets and our parking lots would all be filled with people getting to this destination (the waterfront). I’m going to support it with the caveat that I hope staff will be following this, and if this becomes a problem for the neighbors, I want it brought back for discussion.”

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Alexandria firefighters and the city’s fire boat, along with vessels from the D.C. fire department and the U.S. Coast Guard, conducted searches below the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Tuesday afternoon after reports of a person in the water.

Initial reports suggested that a woman had jumped off the bridge, on the southern end of the Beltway, into the water below. Rescuers, however, did not find anyone in the river.

Later, a woman matching description given to rescuers was found alive and well on Maryland side of bridge, but it was determined that no further assistance was necessary, according to Petty Officer Andy Kendrick, a Coast Guard spokesman.

Police in Prince George’s County also conducted a welfare check on the woman, we’re told.

An Alexandria Fire Department spokeswoman said it was the department’s understanding that the woman had been in the water. It’s unclear whether she jumped.

Though incredibly dangerous, it wouldn’t be the first time someone has jumped from the Wilson bridge and survived. Famously, in 1998, an Alexandria man stood on the bridge for five hours, blocking traffic on the Beltway, before leaping off; he survived with “no obvious injuries.” In 2017, a man and a woman jumped off the bridge in separate incidents, and both survived.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger of self-harm, call 911. If you’re having thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text CONNECT to 85511.

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Alexandria is gearing up for its 25th annual First Night celebration tomorrow (Tuesday).

First Night is the city’s annual New Year’s Eve celebration featuring various local businesses and civic organizations. Events are scheduled to take place across Old Town. Kids entertainment is scheduled to start at 6 p.m. while music starts at 7 p.m.

This year, the event is planned to include a pop-up comedy show as well as live music, according to the First Night website.

All-access tickets to the event are $30 today, but increase to $35 tomorrow. Badges are free for active-duty military.

Other bars and restaurants around town are also hosting special New Year’s Eve parties as well, including:

  • Noon Year’s Eve Party and Balloon Drop at Hops N Shine (3410 Mount Vernon Avenue) — New Year’s celebrations start a little early at Hops N Shine tomorrow. Events are planned to include face painting, s’more kits, moonshine infusions and a balloon drop at midnight.
  • New Year’s Eve with Evening Star Cafe (2000 Mount Vernon Avenue) — The Del Ray restaurant is offering a $75 per person four-course meal with the option to add a $35 wine pairing.
  • Roaring 2020s NYE at Village Brauhaus (710 King Street) — Village Brauhaus is hosting a costume party with a Great Gatsby theme. General admission tickets are $30 and come with a buffet and snacks, along with a glass of champagne or sparkling cider. The $45 ticket includes two glasses of wine, two light beers, and two specialty cocktails as well as the buffet, snacks and champagne.
  • New Year’s Eve Fireworks Cruise with the Potomac Riverboat Company (211 N. Union Street) — The riverboat Cherry Blossom will take to the river for a unique view of the city’s fireworks celebration. The three-hour cruise will feature hors d’oeuvres along with beer and wine, culminating with fireworks and a champagne toast at midnight. Tickets are $160.
  • New Year’s Eve at Murphy’s Grand Irish Pub (713 King Street) — The Irish pub in Old Town will offer a four-course dinner, party favors and live music for $55, according to the restaurant’s Facebook page. Reservations can be made over the phone at 703-548-1717.

Photo via First Night Alexandria/Facebook

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As Alexandria’s Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) project RiverRenew starts making progress, it’s looking increasingly likely the project’s cost will approach the half-billion dollar mark.

During an update at the City Council meeting on Dec. 10 (Monday), Mayor Justin Wilson said the price will be towards the upper end of the $370 to $555 million price range.

“We’ve been able to refine the pricing… the numbers do not ever get smaller, they get bigger,” Wilson said. “The current estimate is around $464 million. Those numbers have gone up.”

The massive infrastructure project — the largest in the city’s history — was an unfunded mandate from the state legislature. The state will require Alexandria to completely overhaul its centuries-outdated sewer system by July 1, 2025, to prevent sewage from flowing into the Potomac River during rainstorms.

The good news, for Alexandria, is that since the initial mandate the state has started putting some funding into the project. The General Assembly adopted a budget earlier this year that included $25 million for the project. This year, Wilson said the city government is back requesting $75 million more.

“We will hear in a couple of weeks whether there’s money in the governor’s budget,” Wilson said.

Meanwhile, Wilson said three design-build teams have been shortlisted for the project, and will have to submit proposals for the project by Feb. 11. From there, Wilson said it will be a pretty quiet year in terms of news on the project as Alexandria Renew Enterprises chooses who is awarded the contract. The goal, Wilson said, is to have a design selected by December 2020.

“We still have a substantial amount of work to do,” Wilson said, “[but we’ve] made a lot of progress.”

Photo via Alexandria Renew Enterprises/Facebook

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The waterfront will sparkle tomorrow (Saturday) as dozens of ships decked out in Christmas lights cruise along the shoreline.

This year is the 20th annual Holiday Boat Parade of Lights. Festivities are planned throughout the afternoon and early evening, from 2-8 p.m. Planned activities include a pop-up beer garden from Port City Brewing Company, a bookmark-making station from Old Town Books and holiday music from 97.1 WASH-FM.

Santa is scheduled to arrive at the party at 3:30 p.m. by fireboat, and the parade is scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. The parade is expected to last sometime between 30 minutes to an hour, depending on factors like total participants and river conditions. Guests are advised to arrive early to stake out a good spot to view the parade.

Visit Alexandria suggested the following locations:

  • Founders Park — 351 N. Union Street
  • Alexandria City Marina — 0 Cameron Street
  • Waterfront Park — 1 King Street and 1A Prince Street
  • Point Lumley Park — 1 Duke Street
  • Windmill Hill Park — 501 S. Union Street
  • Shipyard/Harborside Park — 1 Wilkes Street
  • Ford’s Landing City Park — 99 Franklin Street

After leaving Alexandria, the parade will head to The Wharf in D.C. for another celebration there.

Photo via Visit Alexandria VA/Facebook

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(Updated 11/20) This summer’s Metro shutdown could wind up netting the Potomac Riverboat Company a goal the company has been after for years: permanent early-morning service for its water taxi.

The company’s lease currently prohibits boats from coming in or out of docks before 9:30 a.m., which staff told the Waterfront Commission this morning (Tuesday) means the boats are usually used by tourists. But during the Metro shutdown, the city waived that restriction.

“The water taxi was well used,” staff said. “Most of the new users were Metro riders. They had up to 997 boardings a week [in June] and averaged 600 during the rest of the shutdown.”

During the shutdown, the city offered a reimbursement program that included $100 for a seasonal pass and $8 for round trip tickets. Current prices post Metro shutdown are notably pricier: $195 for an unlimited annual pass and $18 for a round trip pass.

The city previously required Potomac Riverboat Company to implement a parking plan for commuter parking, but 85 percent of the new riders biked or walked to the water taxi and the city reported there were no parking complaints or capacity issues related it.

Now, the staff said City Manager Mark Jinks has expressed interest in asking the council for an extension of the hours in the lease to allow operations to begin “before 6:30 a.m.” and to promote the water taxi as an alternative to driving.

“This is great,” said Waterfront Commission member Nathan Macek, also chair of the Planning Commission. “I’m happy to see it move forward. I think we’ve had an irrational fear [of utilizing the waterfront] and this pilot helped.”

The conversation also spurred discussion of a waterfront taxi that would connect with Prince William County and Fort Belvoir, along with locations further upriver like the Pentagon. Charlotte Hall, a member of the Waterfront Commission, said a company is looking at building a water taxi network up the western side of the Potomac River sometime in 2020 but would likely skip Alexandria in at least the first year of operation.

“Alexandria is not ready for this in 2020,” Hall said, “but others are.”

“We’re so restrictive on our lease covenants with when the boats can come and go,” said Macek. “I think the city contracts need to be less specific about that. Let boats come and go as they please, and I don’t think the city needs to regulate the boat spaces as strictly as they do.”

There was only one note of light dissent on the Waterfront Commission when Beth Gross, a representative on the Commission from the Founders Park Community Association, said the idea of boats coming and going from the docks like planes coming and going from the airport made her “a little worried.”

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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A festival celebrating Alexandria’s maritime history is planned for this Saturday (Oct. 12) at Waterfront Park (1 King Street).

The Portside in Old Town Fall Festival, hosted by Visit Alexandria, is scheduled to run from 1-7 p.m., rain or shine. The event is free to attend and has a variety of maritime activities, live music and more lined up.

One of the main features of the event are boats crafted by the Alexandria Seaport Foundation, a local organization that teaches shipbuilding and mentors people between the ages of 16-22

There are a few educational opportunities as well, with the Office of Historic Alexandria offering lessons about the waterfront’s history and the ships discovered there.

A team from the tall ship Providence, a reproduction of nautical legend John Paul Jones’ first American command, will also be on hand to teach knot tying ahead of the ship becomes a permanent feature of the waterfront this fall.

A few activities at the festival require a fee to participate, with proceeds going to the Alexandria Seaport Foundation. Paid activities include an “Anything that Floats Race” — where participants test their engineering skills as they try to design seaworthy contraptions and put them to the test, and “splash golf” — where players practice their golf swing by hitting biodegradable fish-food golf balls into the Potomac.

There are also a variety of food and drink vendors expected at the event, including:

Photo via Visit Alexandria

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