Mutiny at City Hall

Mutiny at City Hall

Council defers vote on use of Founders Park.

On Dec. 19, 1606, the crew of the original Godspeed set sail, as historian David Price wrote, “with pure hearts and empty heads.” It was 68 feet long with 52 men crammed into its wooden frame. Bartholomew Gosnard, the ship’s captain, tried to maintain order until the ship reached the New World — with some success. Most of the men survived and he crossed the Atlantic Ocean without a mutiny.

Until now.

To celebrate the 400th anniversary of the founding of Jamestown, members of a nonprofit group plan to bring a re-creation of the Godspeed to Alexandria. The ship’s stop here will be the first of six stops before the ship arrives at Jamestown. Because the stop in Alexandria is the inaugural stop on the voyage, organizers plan an extended stay — from May 24 to June 5.

“This is not a carnival or a street fair,” said Jeanne Zeidler, executive director of Jamestown 2007 and mayor of Williamsburg. “The plan presented to council maximizes the program’s integrity and appeal.”

But neighbors of the proposed location are not happy about a Jan. 20 memorandum from City Manager Jim Hartmann that recommended the festival be located in Founders Park, the rectangular open space north of the Torpedo Factory. At an Tuesday public hearing on the matter, members of the Founders Park Community Association expressed opposition to Hartmann’s recommendation.

“One resident told me that this plan is as good for the residents as the arrival of the original Godspeed was for the original residents,” said Jim Dorsch, president of the Founders Park Community Association. “That may be an exaggeration, but that is the feeling you are creating.”

DORSCH POINTED OUT that by allowing the festival to be held in Founders Park, the City Council would be making an exception to several long-standing rules that were written to preserve the park. He pleaded with them to explore options other than Founders Park.

“It’s a shame the development of this plan has poisoned the well of good feeling and comity that should go with such an enterprise and replace it with stealth, bitterness and hard feelings,” Dorsch said. “What we have here is a Trojan horse, a poisoned apple dressed up as a blessing for business, forced down the throat of those residents who have to live with it.”

Planners estimate that the event will draw about 2,500 to 3,000 visitors a day with four days of loading and unloading tents, tops and generators. Current plans call for two stages, an “anniversary village,” a hospitality tent, a production office and a “New World Simulator” that simulates the experience of sailing in a 17th-century ship.

“We think it will take a month to get the park back to where it was — with heavy rains, more time than that,” said Roger Blakely, deputy director of the department. “There’s going to be some damage to the park, and we recognize that.”

Hartmann said that the reason that he recommended Founders Park as the proposed location for the festival was concerns about traffic and parking.

“No streets will need to be closed, and the street parking will not be eliminated except for some spaces on Union Street during the set-up time and the take-down time, which is expected to be on May 25, May 26 and June 5,” Hartmann wrote in the memorandum recommending Founders Park. “City staff and Jamestown 2007 have agreed that Jamestown 2007 will fully reimburse the city for any damage or restoration costs that they city incurs in order to put Founders Park back to its original condition immediately after the event is over and cleared from the park.”

But the City Council did not act on Hartmann’s recommendation. Instead, they decided to ask for more time and information. Vice Mayor Del Pepper asked that Oronoco Park be considered as an option and Councilman Paul Smedberg asked that additional precautions be taken to ensure pedestrian safety. The council will review the new options as soon as they are ready because the event is only a few months away.

“This is certainly an exciting opportunity for Alexandria,” said Mayor Bill Euille. “I hope that we will be able to find a way to accommodate this celebration.”