February 26, 2021

Square Feet: Alexandria, Va., Seeks to Reinvent a Postindustrial Potomac

But the area known as Old Town Alexandria became gentrified, as Federal-era town houses were renovated, and upscale restaurants and boutiques made the area a destination for tourists and others with money to spend. The Ford plant is long gone, replaced by 136 luxury town houses, and the old torpedo factory is now a venue for artists’ studios and events.

Still, remnants of the city’s industrial past continue to preoccupy politicians, planners and others seeking to rid the shoreline of unsightly old structures. To that end, the city has been devising a revitalization plan to replace the warehouses with hotels, condos, shops and, some citizens hope, more parks.

Now, a nonprofit group has proposed a $450 million effort to convert a coal-fired power plant to an environmentally friendly mixed-use development. The proposal received a push this week as the city and the plant’s operator, GenOn Energy of Houston, agreed to close it by Oct. 1, 2012, or “as soon as it is no longer needed” for regional demand, a statement the city released on Tuesday said.

The proposed development would have 89,600 square feet of office space and 114,500 square feet of stores and restaurants, 467 multifamily and 96 town house units, a 125-room hotel, recreational and open space, a center for alternative energy start-ups and a museum of the newest power technologies.

However, the group, called the American Clean Skies Foundation, does not own the property or the plant, and no developer has made an offer to acquire and redevelop them. Regardless, the foundation spent more than $500,000 on architects, environmental and real estate specialists, and even a public relations agency to produce and promote what it calls Potomac River Green. The proposal was unveiled Aug. 10 at the National Press Club in a news conference attended also by representatives from the Sierra Club and two members of the Alexandria City Council.

The American Clean Skies Foundation was founded by Aubrey K. McClendon, the chief executive of the Chesapeake Energy Corporation of Oklahoma City, one of the country’s largest producers of natural gas and a competitor to the coal power industry.

“We’ve looked at opportunities across the states for repurposing coal plants,” said Gregory C. Staple, the foundation’s chief executive. “We want to accelerate retirement of those inefficient and unscrubbed. Alexandria stands out.”

He said the foundation was “delighted” with Tuesday’s announcement.

The campaign to convert such sites to other uses got help from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg on July 21. From a boat on the Potomac, with the GenOn generation station in the background, Mr. Bloomberg announced a $50 million grant from his charitable foundation to support Sierra Club efforts to close the country’s coal-fired power plants.

The City of Alexandria and local residents have fought for years to close the plant, which has been cited for violations of state and federal air pollution laws and operates at only 20 percent of capacity, firing up mainly at times of peak demand. Under a court settlement, GenOn put $34 million in escrow, to mitigate the ash and particulate matter the plant’s smokestacks still emit. Under the new agreement, GenOn would release the $32 million remaining in escrow.

The plant was briefly closed in 2005, but then Washington and the Department of Energy said it was needed to meet demand. In July, Washington asked the regional transmission organization to reassess the need for the plant in light of concerns about pollution.

With tough new rules expected soon from the Environmental Protection Agency, Clean Skies and its supporters said they believed the plant’s days were numbered. They noted that GenOn, which is publicly traded, had called it an “impaired asset” in its recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. GenOn’s second-quarter statement, issued on Aug. 11, said it expected some older plants to be retired “as a result of proposed regulatory actions.”

It did not name the Potomac River plant, which occupies 25 acres near Ronald Reagan National Airport, and, initially, a spokeswoman for GenOn sought to quell expectations that the company was ready to close it.

“Impairment is a technical accounting term,” Misty Allen, a GenOn spokeswoman, said before the agreement to close the plant was announced. “Basically, at the time we valued the asset, the market value was less than the book value.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=0e272c9444392eb8ebb39eaf89d2074a

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