For Immediate Release: August 6, 2013
The City of Alexandria has been advised by the St. James Group LLC that it is withdrawing its unsolicited proposal to develop Hensley Park into a sports and entertainment complex. The decision followed review of recently located materials that indicate restrictions on potential uses for Hensley Park, based on the sources of funding originally used to acquire the property.
St. James Group had commissioned a title report prior to submitting its unsolicited proposal to the City. Nothing in that title report indicated any restriction or encumbrance on the property that would have prevented the project from moving forward in the event the proposal, after an appropriate public process, had been approved. However, there was some suggestion in public comment about the project that a federal Land & Water Conservation Fund grant was used to acquire the fields. City staff, in response, looked through both its own active records and contacted the National Park Service, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (which had previously leased Hensley Park from the City). The response from each of these entities was that federal funds had not been used to acquire the Park. The City relayed that information to the public, while continuing to search archived records to resolve this question.
As the result of those efforts, City staff recently located materials in the City archives that suggest a 13-acre portion of Hensley Park was acquired by the City in 1977 for just over $1 million, with the assistance of a federal grant of up to $300,000 to supplement the use of City park bond funds, and this information was shared with St. James Group. The referenced grant paid less than 30 percent of the purchase price. The source of those federal funds is not identified in those materials, and neither the National Park Service (NPS) nor the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), up until August 6, were able to confirm, the source, or even the granting, of those funds. However, the archived City documents from 1977 do mention the use of "grant funds."
The City’s archived records, while open to public inspection, are not routinely accessed by City staff or private title researchers, and thus were not part of the initial research regarding Hensley Park’s history.
On August 6, as this release was being prepared, the Virginia DCR sent the City new information which reversed its prior conclusion. DCR provided information to the city showing, nearly conclusively, that Land & Water Conservation Funds of at least $117,000 were used to help buy the land now known as Hensley Park. The Land & Water Conservation Act stipulates that no property acquired or developed with assistance from the Fund may be converted to other than public outdoor recreation uses unless replaced with “reasonably equivalent” property.
The principals of the St. James Group have spoken with Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille about their decision. "We appreciate the St. James Group's interest in the City of Alexandria as a possible location for their business, and wish them well in finding a suitable location for their innovative facility,” said Mayor Euille. “We certainly understand both the reason for their initial interest and their decision to make a change based on their concerns about restrictions on use of the Hensley Park site. We remain committed to exploring other opportunities to bring first class, high quality projects to appropriate locations within the City.”
City staff will continue its reviews to conclusively determine where there are restrictions on other City park sites based upon Land & Water Conservation Fund Act grants so information on these restrictions is clear and easily accessible in the future.
For more information, contact Craig Fifer, Deputy Director of Communications, at 703.505.9668 or firstname.lastname@example.org.