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The Virginian - Pilot (Norfolk, VA.)


The Alexandria City Council decided unanimously Saturday to name a refurbished park at the foot of King Street "Waterfront Park," even though the council admitted it's a lackluster and unimaginative moniker.

Its advantage: It doesn't offend anyone.

The park, previously called Fitzgerald Square, sparked a local dispute after some residents objected that founding father Col. John Fitzgerald was one of the town's largest slave owners.

"His successful businesses were accomplished on the back of enslaved human beings," said council member Timothy Lovain. D.

Although the new name might not be creative, Lovain said it puts the focus on city efforts aimed at "finally restoring the waterfront to its prominent place in our city."

The park is a centerpiece of the city's ongoing redevelopment of Alexandria's riverfront. It will be combined with a park to the south, which already is called Waterfront Park. The first phase of the redeveloped park, slated for completion in early 2019, will include a plaza, promenade and an adaptable modular space. The entire project will take years to finish, after flood mitigation measures are built and other, undetermined amenities are added.

The abandonment of Fitzgerald's name enraged Irish organizations in Alexandria, whose leaders raised claims of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic bias. Fitzgerald, an Irish immigrant, was an aide-de-camp to Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War, served as mayor in the city's earliest years and founded a Catholic church, St. Mary's Basilica, in the town.

The late restaurateur Pat Troy, also an Irishman, had promoted the use of Fitzgerald's name around 2010 and the informal name eventually wound up on city planning documents.

A few officials said quietly last spring that there was concern among some residents about Fitzgerald's slave-owning past. In a March 17 announcement about the project's groundbreaking, city officials dropped the Fitzgerald Square reference, substituting a temporary name, "King Street Park at the Waterfront."

In explanation, city communications officials said the park had to go through an official naming process. They dismissed the idea that the change had anything to do with citizen complaints about Fitzgerald's past.

Although about 70 people testified at the naming commission's hearing in November, the only one to speak up Saturday was Andrew MacDonald, former vice mayor and a descendant of Scottish immigrants.

"It's not the jazziest name, but it serves a purpose," council member Paul Smedberg, D, responded. That purpose, council member John T. Chapman, D, added, is to provide "a plain name that allows all our communities to explore our history at the waterfront."

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December 18, 2018


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