Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

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Does our county really need gimmicky big projects to put it on the map?

Recent years have brought us several attention-grabbing transport and tourist-lure proposals that have perked the ears of antsy economic planners.

It seems some seek to put Arlington on a level with Cawker City, Kan., home to the world’s largest ball of twine. Or Mauch Chunk, Pa., which in 1953 renamed itself Jim Thorpe in a deal to bring the great athlete’s remains to the town.

Last month, as ARLNow reported, local developer James Burch proposed enhancing the Rosslyn skyline with a 325-foot space-needle-like private museum called the Spirit of America Tower. Such a new gateway to D.C. is envisioned on Virginia Transportation Department property abutting Route 110 and I-66.

Burch described it as “an interactive, introductory museum about Washington, D.C. and the founding principals of our country.” (As if the Smithsonian and other downtown museums and monuments don’t do the trick.) Sketches suggest the tower would consist of three upper levels: an observation deck, a landing deck and an event facility deck.

Besides offering a sensational view, the project “will be designed by the best visionary firms available… with interactive depictions of historic events, and then guides/storytellers who tell the stories of Washington, D.C.,” Burch said. And its focus on “gifts and talents” special to every individual will “help people achieve their dreams.” Give Burch credit for seeking public feedback.

That announcement came as Arlington leaders are pondering the proposal to hang an air gondola line from Georgetown to Rosslyn. (I guess the Key Bridge and Potomac skyline need improving.)

A private consulting architects’ study released in November said building the project would cost $80 million-$90 million, followed by annual operating costs of $3.25 million. That would attract, backers hope, 6,500 daily riders (which could be realistic if Metro doesn’t fix itself soon) at 2,400 per hour in each direction.

Favored by many in the Georgetown and Rosslyn business improvement districts, the project would offer economic benefits “on both sides of the river” and dovetail “seamlessly” with Metro, the study stressed. Imagine a four-minute ride door-to-door with 8-12 people cabins arriving every 20-60 seconds.

Not to be outdone, the vacuum along Columbia Pike following defeat of the proposed streetcar should be filled with JPods, according to entrepreneur Bill James, a Minneapolis-based West Point graduate who crusades to wean the country off of oil. The pods would make up a personalized transit system elevated over a car-packed roadway with people-carrying capsules suspended from rafters. His patented the light-weight JPods are privately funded, operate with solar panel and move quickly.

But since I first reported on JPods in 2015, James has made little progress in winning a contract to test the system in cities like Secaucus, N.Y. Arlington hasn’t bitten either.

Not being a traffic engineer, architect or economic planner, I hesitate to rain on the parade of dreamers who come forward with concepts for making us stand out amid the Beltway clutter. But all three projects would severely alter our horizon and threaten someday to become emblematic of Arlington.

How many counties can boast of unique entities as Arlington Cemetery and the Pentagon? And if you really want unusual visuals, we’ve got ‘em. But they’re subtler.

Try visiting the Air Force Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial, or the less-appreciated Netherlands Carillon.

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Spotted: county board members having a blast ringing the bell in the tower atop the 19th-century Hume School on South Arlington Ridge Road.

Libby Garvey, Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol on Saturday pulled the rope in the antique classroom while attending the wine-and-cheese winter social of the Arlington Historical Society. Besides a chance to showcase current exhibits at the Arlington Historical Museum—African American churches for black history month—the event allowed tours of the school built in 1891 (Arlington’s oldest school building).

The society—which loves the building but regrets its scant parking—raises donations through its “bell ringer” campaign.