Despite Parking Fears, Council Approves Luxury Hotel Complex
The Alexandria City Council approved construction of a luxury hotel on upper King Street near the Metro station yesterday, fresh evidence of Old Town Alexandria’s transformation into an upscale tourist mecca.
The new complex, which will include a top-drawer restaurant, coffee-wine bar and day spa, will be built on a site previously approved for a condominium development that was shelved. It will incorporate one historic building and preserve the facade of another.
The project makes sense for the city, said council member Timothy B. Lovain (D), because “a hotel, especially a luxury hotel,” would generate a lot of tax-generating spending by its patrons, “but with very little demand for [city] services.” The council approved the special-use permit unanimously.
It will be the third hotel in Old Town to be operated by the Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group, a San Francisco-based company known for its posh, comfortable and quirky lodging establishments and eateries. Kimpton operates the Morrison House and will operate the former Holiday Inn, which is being renovated.
“We feel there’s a great opportu- nity,” said Nick Gregory, area general manager for Kimpton Hotels. “The Old Town market is due for some luxury properties.”
The approval of the 107-room hotel is another sign of more changes afoot for the historic enclave. The city is preparing a plan to redevelop the waterfront, and the National Harbor convention center across the Potomac River is expected to draw 500 to 1,000 tourists to Old Town daily, most arriving at the base of King Street by water taxi.
Council members endorsed the project despite concerns expressed by nearby residents that a new hotel would add to their parking woes and further mark the shift toward ritzy amenities and away from a focus on neighborhoods.
“We’re concerned about parking,” said Alexandria resident Suzanna Kang, who lives on Cameron Street, adding that the hotel’s patrons are unlikely to use mass transit. “They arrive in their luxury automobiles, and they park in our neighborhood.”
Alexandria resident Townsend A. “Van” Van Fleet, president of the Old Town Civic Association, said, “Major traffic jams will occur regardless of management’s well-intentioned promises.” He also questioned the way the city is being reshaped.
“Another boutique hotel will ob- viously change the character of that area,” Van Fleet said. “Where will the people of moderate means stay when they come to the neighborhood?”
The hotel’s representatives said they planned to reduce traffic blockages and parking problems by offering a free valet service to restaurant, spa and hotel patrons. Tourism booster Charlotte Hall, vice president of the Potomac Riverboat Co., said she believes that nearby parking garages can be used more effectively and that businesses are seeking new ways to offer parking to their customers. City officials are also studying the parking problem.
“These neighbors have reason to complain,” said City Council member Redella S. “Del” Pepper (D). “They are competing for parking spaces.”
She acknowledged that the addition of another hotel is “a big step in changing that whole area” and said officials “will be monitoring it closely.” But on balance, she said, it will be “a big plus.”
Still, Duhyun Choe, owner of the Uptowner Cafe, a small coffee and sandwich shop across King Street from the site of the new hotel, frowned when he learned of the council’s decision. He said he worries that parking problems and more retail competition could hurt his business.
“Parking is hard now,” he said. “There’ll be a lot of traffic. And there are too many hotels — the Hilton, the Hampton, the Marriott — too many.”