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Waterfront Commission slams rushed timing and poor planning for Torpedo Factory overhaul

The Torpedo Factory plan took a direct hit from the Waterfront Commission as Commissioners criticized staff for a rushed timeline that gives little room for public and commission feedback.

Plans are in the works to potentially overhaul the structure of the Torpedo Factory, with options like new cafe space on the first floor or artistic changes like a new glassblowing studio all being considered. But at a Waterfront Commission meeting earlier this week, the group unanimously voted to sent a letter to the City Council warning about the inadequate time given to considering public feedback at the end of the process.

While city staff have previously outlined potential changes to the layout of the Torpedo Factory, other important planning aspects like a cost breakdown are still unknown as plans went to the Waterfront Commission for review ahead of a City Council meeting next month.

At the meeting, Diane Ruggiero, deputy director of recreation, parks and cultural activities, explained that the Office of the Arts is working on a constrained timeline laid out by the City Council. Ruggiero explained that the timeline for the presentation of the Torpedo Factory plan was originally 18 months but was shrunk down to four months.

It’s a justification that went over poorly with members of the Waterfront Commission.

“You’re having a series of public meetings and then going to Council next week?” asked Commissioner Nathan Macek. “How does that provide any time for the public to provide feedback or for you to meaningfully incorporate that into what you’re bringing to City Council? This schedule is not realistic and I think you’re going to have to rethink it. I know you’re trying to get this in before this Council leaves, but I don’t think it’s fair to the community to cram this in at two weeks of the holidays and blame the schedule. You’ve had four months. You had four months. Failure to use the four months you had adequately shouldn’t be something we should be punished for and the community is given to react with.”

Chair Steve Thayer said it was unrealistic to expect the Waterfront Commission to be expected to endorse a plan lacking many of its basic elements.

“The devil is always in the details,” Thayer said. “There’s no way we’re going to have enough information to sit down in the middle of December and mix and match and decide what we think as a body. We’re well within our rights to tell Council we’re unable to fulfill our responsibilities because we received insufficient information.”

Staff from the Office of the Arts suggested holding a special meeting of the Waterfront Commission in December, but Thayer said that would likely create additional difficulties with trying to get all of the Commission members together around the holidays.

The concern expressed by many on the Waterfront Commission is that the stunted feedback time would erode public confidence in a plan already under fire from artists at the Torpedo Factory.

“The community at the Torpedo Factory is a bit up in arms, and if we rush this, there will be greater lack of trust,” said Commisioner Kristina Hagman. “We have to address this in some way, shape or form.”

While the Waterfront Commission was united in concerns about the timeline of the plan, there were some divisions over its content — with some saying the city hasn’t done enough to mollify artist concerns and others criticizing the artists for being unwilling to accept any changes.

“There was always a ‘do not do anything, do not change anything’ type attitude and I really like Diane’s changes for the building,” Hagman said. “I myself left the Torpedo Factory because it was a bit moribund. On the other hand, I think there will be a real distrust or community backlash, and I think that will be a real issue to deal with.”

The Waterfront Commission unanimously voted to send a letter to the City Council saying the Waterfront Commission did not have adequate time to consider the Torpedo Factory plans.

“Diane, I hope you understand why we’re upset with your office about this,” Macek said. “We asked you for information a month ago to provide adequate information to form an opinion on this. You’re running out the clock and saying ‘Sorry, this is the timeframe we’re on.’ That is not appropriate to back a commission into a corner with that… It’s just not the way business should be done in the city.”

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