The recent excavation of an 18th Century Warehouse and Buried Ship on the Alexandria Waterfront received excited coverage by NBC News and The Washington Post. These finds are fascinating and will contribute to Alexandria’s already rich cultural history. But the press coverage largely overlooked the credit due to the real estate developer, Carr Hospitality.
Archeology is expensive and time-consuming. Under Alexandria’s Archeological Protection Code, developers have been required since 1989 to plan for and pay for archeology as part of developing property in the City. Most sites don’t contain the treasure-trove attracting national attention at the Indigo Hotel site, but many developers have paid for extensive documentary research and digs that record the archeological record at sites they are re-developing. Some developers have spent up to and exceeding $ One Million on archeology, not counting the cost of delay to their projects.
When I negotiated with the City Attorney on the proposed legislation twenty-five years ago, the quid pro quo for developers was a predictable process, quick review by the City, and assurance that archeology would never prohibit development. It is expensive but, overall, the legislation has worked. The history and pre-history buried in the ground is only revealed when it is excavated. By paying for the archeology needed to record this information and preserve the artifacts, development has contributed much to our cultural heritage. So next time you read about an exciting archeological find in the City, you can probably thank a developer.