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Santa Claus will ride into Old Town on the King Street Trolley this Saturday night (Nov. 19) for the annual holiday tree lighting ceremony in front of City Hall.

The party starts at 6 p.m. at Market Square (301 King Street), where Santa and Mayor Justin Wilson will do their part to reduce seasonal darkness by lighting the 40,000 lights on the city’s 40-foot-tall holiday tree.

Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker will cap off the event, which will include a program of holiday carols.

Admission is free, and the event will occur rain or shine.

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Rendering of the unit block of King Street with street closure (via City of Alexandria)

The King Street Pedestrian Zone was officially expanded to reach Waterfront Park on Saturday (Nov. 12).

Council voted unanimously and without discussion on the permanent conversion of the unit block of King Street and the northern portion of Strand Street.

The City shut down the 100 block of King Street in 2020 to help small businesses with outdoor seating during the pandemic. The unit block of King Street and Strand Street were later added to the pilot.

A survey of community feedback on the closure found that 91% (of 1,853 survey respondents) rated the pedestrian zone as very positive, and that 89% of wanted it to be permanent.

The Waterfront Commission also approved the plan, and suggested to City Council the following “enhancements”:

  • Strengthening temporary barricades to provide for the safety and security of pedestrians in these blocks until full implementation of street improvements
  • Installing a sign on Strand Street at the intersection of Prince Street identifying “no outlet” or “dead end” and noting limited parking available on Strand Street
  • Closing Strand Street at Prince Street and designating the metered parking spaces adjacent to Waterfront Park as Handicapped Parking and City Service Vehicles Only. Continue to allow vehicle access to the private garage at 110 S. Union Street. This would provide additional parking near the waterfront for disabled individuals, and would discourage traffic from drivers looking for limited parking in the 100 block of Strand Street
  • Designating specific resources to provide appropriate City maintenance and security of the pedestrian zone
  • Installing pavement markings on Strand Street clearly identifying the turnaround and no parking areas on Strand Street

Conversion costs will be minimal, said City Manager Jim Parajon in a note to Council.

“If the closure is approved, there will be minimal costs associated with updating parking signage and refreshing striping,” Parajon wrote. “All of these costs can be handled with existing budgets. Also, since there will be four metered spaces eliminated along the Waterfront Park to provide turnaround space and parking for police, this will total approximately $8,000 per year, or $666/month.”

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The kitschy I Love You sign in Waterfront Park is no more, replaced with a holiday tree, but the big news this week is the announcement of a new art project that will replace the tree early next year.

A new project by New York City-based artist Nina Cooke John called “Two Boxes of Oranges and Admonia Jackson” will be installed in March 2023 and will remain in place until November.

The project features steel beams meant to evoke the series of 18th-century ships discovered in Old Town excavations between 2015-2018.

“Viewed from the park, visitors stand on the outside of the hull with a view onto one side of history,” said the City’s Department of Arts, Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities. “Once inside, a fuller story is revealed. Visitors move in, through and between the installation reading the text on the ground and touching the text on the steel. Light traces the profiles, reinforcing their form and allowing for a different experience at night.”

Along with the beams there will be pained images of herring, coconuts, gin, a woman named “Jane Tailor” featured in a ship manifest, and other notable parts of the city’s nautical history.

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(Updated at 10:35 p.m. on 11/22/22) The fifth art installation at Waterfront Park will commemorate the wrecked 18th century ships discovered at the sites of the Hotel Indigo and Robinson Terminal South.

“Two Boxes of Oranges and Admonia Jackson” will be erected in mid-to-late March 2023 and be up until November. The work, by New York City-based architect and artist Nina Cooke John, reveals a steel abstract of a ship’s hull, meant to illustrate the city’s historical depths.

“Viewed from the park, visitors stand on the outside of the hull with a view onto one side of history,” said the City’s Department of Arts, Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities. “Once inside, a fuller story is revealed. Visitors move in, through and between the installation reading the text on the ground and touching the text on the steel. Light traces the profiles, reinforcing their form and allowing for a different experience at night.”

The installation was chosen by a task force of Alexandria Arts Commission members, including Claire Mouledoux, senior vice president of marketing for Visit Alexandria; Clint Mansell, director of the Principle Gallery (208 King Street); and Nicole McGrew, the owner of Threadleaf & Company.

According to the City:

Like an archaeological dig, the site is layered, with portions of different information coming through.  The sea of blue on the plaza is painted on the outer surface of the pieces.  The orange of the inner surface extends to its shadows on the ground.  Herring, coconuts and gin are painted on the ground alongside Jane Tailor, female, 5′-2″ in text pulled from ships manifests.  Also listed are two boxes of oranges and Admonia Jackson. The text is also embedded in the underside of the steel.

Cooke John has also been chosen to design the new Harriet Tubman Monument in Newark, New Jersey.

Goodbye, “I Love You”

Fabian and Angie Chavarria at the ‘I Love You’ art installation at Waterfront park on Nov. 6, 2022 (staff photo by James Cullum)

In the meantime, the “I Love You” installation was taken down on Sunday — after a farewell party hosted by the Department. The neon “I Love You” sign by Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt of R&R STUDIOS opened in March, and was a favorite for selfie-takers.

A holiday tree will be put in its place, and lit up on Nov. 19. That’s in addition to the big holiday tree lighting just a few blocks away at Market Square in front of City Hall on that same date.

“I Love You” had issues with light bulb outages over the summer, and the bulbs — individually hand-crafted glass tubes containing neon gas — were reinforced by a repair crew. But in its final weeks, the bulb in the “O” in the sign’s “You” was blown out after someone tried to throw a football through it.

“So, we finally figured out a way to keep those tubes from snapping, and then somebody tried to throw a football through the ‘O’ in the ‘YOU’,” said Diane Ruggiero, the deputy director of the city’s Department of Arts, Recreation, Parks & Cultural Activities. “If this artwork weren’t temporary then it would be designed a little differently, and that’s what it is — temporary.”

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(Updated 5:45 p.m.) At an upcoming meeting, the City Council is scheduled to consider a grant application asking for $50 million for waterfront flood mitigation projects.

Last year, city staff put forward a variety of potential projects to add more flood resiliency to the waterfront, which has seen increasingly frequent flooding in recent years, but with cost estimates ranging from $170 to $215 million, some city leaders faced some sticker shock and have asked to scale down the projects.

That $50 million is the maximum amount that can be awarded through FEMA’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) Grant Program.

The city’s flooding prevention projects have, in the past, gotten some boosts from state and national resources.

In addition to the national funding, the docket item for the application notes at a later date the Council will consider funding the local share of any related waterfront flood projects.

The application is scheduled for review at the City Council meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 9.

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A Planning Commission endorsement of Vola’s Dockside Grill’s (101 N. Union) expansion plans came with two notes: the city should loosen up on its Torpedo Factory-adjacent noise restrictions and there’s a regrettable dearth of vegetarian options in Old Town.

The Planning Commission voted 6-0 with one recusal in favor of Vola’s plans to permanently convert the former Riverside Taco area into more outdoor seating.

In the meeting, Planning Commission chair Nathan Macek said the city should do more to simplify conditions and be a little less prudish when it comes to noise on the waterfront.

“We need to simplify conditions where possible so we’re not making the same statement over and over about the noise ordinance with three or four different conditions that do that,” Macek said.
“We need to be straightforward and precise and do that once.”

The change also allows more outdoor entertainment at the site, like removing restrictions on live entertainment prior to Torpedo Factory closing hours.

“I think we were too restrictive in our original recommendations at the taco site,” Macek said. “I’m less concerned with whether this penetrates the walls of the Torpedo Factory. It’s not a hospital. It’s not a senior citizen home. It is something we’re trying to make vibrant and I think these conditions would allow for what we’re really after… to make our waterfront a lively place.”

Commissioner David Brown also expressed support for the application, saying the expansion is a positive sign of the restaurant’s stability.

“We’re going through a time when many restaurants have been going through a real economic wringer,” Brown said. “This is a sure sign of a restaurant that is succeeding. As someone who had the pleasure for all too brief a time of knowing and working with Vola Lawson, I think she’d be really pleased that her namesake restaurant is succeeding.”

The one lament Planning Commissioners had was that the application marked the final nail in the coffin of hopes that Riverside Taco would return.

“It was a sad day when that taco truck stopped serving tacos,” Macek said. “I wish Vola’s had as many vegetarian options as the taco truck did.”

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A good cause is around the corner to satisfy your taste buds and conscience.

On August 28, Carpenter’s Shelter will host their biggest summer event — their Cook-off Pop-up at ALX Community (201 N. Union Street). The event will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. and showcases offerings from about 20 area restaurants with proceeds benefiting the nonprofit, which provides temporary housing and support for more than 600 families and individuals every year.

Advance tickets cost $20 for kids and $50 for adults, and at the door cost $25 for kids and $75 for adults.

The Jones Point Band will provide live entertainment, and the evening will include raffles and silent auctions.

Participating restaurants include:

Via Facebook

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Vola’s Dockside Grill is filing a permit to make its outdoor seating permanent, though the application also seemingly kills off any hope to see Riverside Taco return.

The application from Alexandria Restuarant Partners (ARP) includes details of a few changes at the area, including a proposal to take over management of some of the waterfront’s few public restrooms.

“Applicant currently holds two special use permits for these areas,” the application said. “First is for Vola’s Dockside Grill at 101 N. Union. [Second] is for 105 N Union, parcel 4B, for an Arts & Crafts market including ancillary food service at Riverside Taco Company.”

But the application said the dreams of an Alexandria waterfront taco truck were derailed by the pandemic and that space will likely be permanently converted to seating — its current use.

“During the pandemic, the applicant closed Riverside Taco and instead used the 4B parcel as a socially distanced seating area for Vola’s,” the applicant said. “Based on the above conditions, the applicant has determined the best use of the 4B parcel is to continue to use this area for Vola’s seating.”

The application also said that ARP could also take over some of the adjacent restrooms to ensure adequate public access.

“Similar to ARP’s arrangement with the City at Robinson Landing, the applicant is offering to take over management of the City-owned restrooms adjacent to the 4B parcel in order to ensure that there are adequate public facilities from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week,” the application said.

The application is scheduled for review at the Tuesday, Sept. 6 Planning Commission meeting.

The application comes as Vola’s neighbors will have to start filing permits to make their own outdoor seating arrangements permanent as the city moves to start enforcing sidewalk dining restrictions again in September.

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For a second year, the Robinson Landing development on the waterfront has announced a series of programs for late summer and early fall, from live music to amateur archeology.

The Owner’s Association for Robinson Landing (7 Pioneer Mill Way) announced a series programs yesterday and a new partnership with the Office of Historic Alexandria.

Every Sunday in August, September and October, Robinson Landing will host classes called “Wellness on the Water.” The August sessions, on Aug. 7, 14, and 21, will be hosted by The MVMMT Society.

“The MVMMT Society team is excited to bring our most waitlisted class to the waterfront at Robinson Landing Pier,” the Owner’s Association said in a release. “HIGH fitness is Old School Aerobics made Modern. Cardio and toning meets Jane Fonda with a side of Richard Simmons. You will have a blast, see real results both physically and mentally, and leave this class wanting more because it’s so much fun.”

The class is 45 minutes and starts at 9 a.m. The release said the workout is suitable for all ages and fitness levels. No equipment is needed and attendees should wear sneakers and workout clothes.

In September and October, the Sunday sessions will be hosted by Bare3 Old Town.

“For September and October, join Barre3 Old Town for a full-body workout that combines strength conditioning, cardio, and mindfulness,” the release said. “The class is 45 minutes and completely adaptable with a variety of options for every posture to truly meet you where you are! Bring a yoga mat and an optional set of handheld weights!”

Other programs this summer and fall include:

  • Waterfront Wednesdays Music Series (Aug. 31, Sept. 7, Sept. 14, Sept. 21, Sept. 28, Oct. 5 from 5-7 p.m.) — The Waterfront Wednesday Music Series will be a series of free concerts featuring a range of genres from local musicians. Attendees are invited to bring a chair or enjoy the concerts in passing.
  • ALX Family Day (Sunday, Sept. 25 from 11-3 p.m.) — Robinson Pier is celebrating National Family Day with face painting, crafts, games, and entertainment.
  • Archaeology Along the Waterfront (Sunday, Oct. 15 from 12-4 p.m.) — City archeologists will take visitors on tours around the site where Old Town’s buried ships were discovered. The release said the program will include a scavenger hunt and walking tours with city archeologists around Robinson Landing. The event is free, but tour space is limited.
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With fireworks, cupcakes and music, Alexandria celebrated its 273rd birthday on Sunday, July 10.

Thousands were in attendance for the free party, which also celebrates America’s birthday and was supposed to be held on Saturday (July 9), but was held off due to rain. What resulted was a less crowded event than years past — with performances by Town Crier Ben Fiore-Walker, Poet Laureate Zeina Azzam, and the Alexandria Symphony Orchestra (ASO).

During the fireworks show over the Potomac River, the symphony played the “Superman theme” by John Williams instead of the traditional “1812 Overture” by Tchaikovsky. ASO Conductor Jim Ross said that it would not be fitting to play music by a Russian composer commemorating Alexandria’s and the country’s birthdays.

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