Arlington is starting the first phase of a major recreation project that will house athletic fields, a rain garden and a 2,000-foot raised walkway overlooking the Potomac River.

The project will be in the Long Bridge Park area, which is adjacent to Old Jefferson Davis Highway in southern Arlington. Donohoe Companies Inc. won the $23.7 million contractto start the work, with construction expected to begin early next year and finish in summer 2011.

"Long Bridge Park will turn what has been an eyesore into one of the most appealing open spaces in the county, and equip it with the recreational facilities needed to serve people of all ages and abilities," said Arlington County Board Chairwoman Barbara Favola.

Funding for the project will come from a 2004 park bond, which was approved by voters.

Long Bridge Park will include:
»  Three lighted synthetic grass athletic fields
»  Landscaping, picnic areas and a raised observation area
»  A 2,350-foot raised esplanade
»  A three-quarter-acre rain garden, which will filter runoff from the park's parking lot and athletic fields
Source: Arlington County government
The Long Bridge Park development has been in the works for years. Planning started in 2001, and the county approved a land swap with Monument Realty in 2005 that would have granted Arlington $25 million to develop the North Tract portion of the project.

However, the deal was modified in 2007 when the condominium market softened. As part of the deal, Arlington County kept at least 150,000 square feet of development rights, which had an estimated value of between $9 million and $13 million at the time.

"We're very pleased that this first phase is going forward, for certain," said Karen Vasquez, a spokeswoman for Arlington's economic development department.

Monument Realty is still working on acquiring the southern portion of the land, which would house a recreation andaquatics center.

"It's just a matter of Monument regaining control of that site," Vasquez said. Once that occurs, another land swap could take place, which would be the "trigger" to press forward with the southern part of the development, she said.

But Monument is facing its own problems. It bought the famed Watergate Hotel in 2004, but defaulted on nearly $70 million in loans earlier this year and lost control of the complex to PB Capital Corp.

A representative for Monument did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Long Bridge project Wednesday.