The Station at Potomac Yard: public, private, and non-profit collaboration.

Author:McIlvaine, Helen S.
 
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The Station at Potomac Yard is a creative and cooperative approach to meeting multiple community needs in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. Located within a former regional rail yard, which is to be redeveloped into a walkable "urban village," the project's innovative mixed-use design maximizes the use of land by combining a fire station, 64 units of affordable and workforce rental housing, and retail space, above two levels of underground parking. The project was made possible through a unique public, private, and nonprofit collaboration.

The efforts of these groups--the City of Alexandria; Potomac Yard Development (PYD), a joint venture of national homebuilders; and the Alexandria Housing Development Corporation (AHDC), a local non-profit housing entity--allowed multiple public and private resources to be accessed to complete the project, despite the implosion of national credit markets and increasing constraints on city fiscal spending during the development period. More than 92 percent of the Station at Potomac Yard's $34 million total development cost came from non-city funding sources. While Alexandria's investment of actual dollars was limited, the city's superior bond rating, strong financial position, and willingness to provide back-stop guarantees were critical to securing other financing and investment.

GETTING STARTED

The Station project was conceived in early 2006 when city staff, reviewing PYD's plans for the first neighborhood to be developed, realized that the dense, urban design being proposed might hinder optimal emergency response time. The plans had already been extensively and positively vetted with the community, so all parties were interested in keeping the development schedule on track while mitigating the response time issue. PYD executives suggested that PYD would be willing to donate land and $6.6 million toward the cost of constructing a fire station within the 160+ acre Potomac Yard redevelopment site.

The city, which had not built a new fire station in more than 30 years, eagerly accepted the offer. Keeping in mind that Alexandria had lost more than half of its affordable rental housing since 2000 (a decline from 18,000 apartments to fewer than 9,000), the city also opted to use the air rights above the fire station to build a residential facility that would meet the urgent need for new affordable housing. PYD responded by offering to donate a substantial portion of its voluntary affordable housing contribution (estimated at approximately $10.5 million for the overall site) early to help fund the affordable housing project, if approved.

In summer 2006, the project team (including city fire, housing, code, and planning staff, and developer and non-profit representatives) held weekly informational meetings with a mayor-appointed citizen task force and the community. These meetings led to two important outcomes. First, the community communicated its desire to include some workforce housing in the development, with rents that would be affordable for residents with incomes of up to 80 percent of the metropolitan area median income. These units would potentially serve city employees, including first responders...

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