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Alexandria leadership lay out next steps in Torpedo Factory overhaul

Alexandria leadership are sticking to their guns on changes planned for the Torpedo Factory Art Center as it looks at building a new governing structure to plan out the art center’s future.

At a City Council meeting last week, the Council and Deputy City Manager Emily Baker discussed evolving plans for the Torpedo Factory and what direction the city should take. The art center is one of the most popular destinations in Alexandria, attracting an estimated 500,000 visitors a year.

During the discussion, the City Council expressed a general interest in moving forward with the previously approved vibrancy plan, despite pushback from artists and supporters critical of plans to reduce studio space.

As previously reported, plans for the Torpedo Factory could involve replacing some ground-floor space with other types of artist spaces — like glass blowing — or uses like a cafe or restaurant. The idea is to make the location more vibrant and attractive to visitors, although artists in the building have resisted against plans that could reduce the studio capacity in the building.

The city approved a path forward laid out in the following memo written by Mayor Justin Wilson:

I believe that Council should endorse principles and ask that our City staff work with partners (AEDP, etc) to return with a plan in alignment with this approach:

  1. Create a separate public entity (e.g. Arts Community Development Authority) to consolidate Alexandria’s artistic real estate assets (Old Town North arts space, Torpedo Factory and beyond) with the mission to:
    • Strategically manage Alexandria’s artistic real estate
    • Take advantage of unique financing tools to rehabilitate, build-out and sustain real estate assets
    • Provide a framework for future consideration of public/private partnerships
    • Project financing and a schedule of City facility capital investments
  2. Ensure that the Torpedo Factory remains a world-class center for the arts, by defining a structure within the newly-created authority that:
    • Implements the approved Action Plan for Vibrancy and Sustainability, to build and sustain a high-quality arts program and visitor experience
    • Retains a place for Torpedo Factory artists as the facility evolves
    • Broadens scope of artistic expression included in the Art Center and throughout the district (e.g. performing arts, etc)
    • Solicits and incorporates structural changes from the City’s Race and Social Equity Officer to improve diversity of artists
    • Retains a place for non-Art Center tenants (Art League and Archaeology Museum
    • Extends the Torpedo Factory brand: combine with the Old Town North Arts District (e.g. “The Torpedo Factory Arts District”)
    • Engage with all stakeholders to develop a coherent vision/mission for the Torpedo Factory and the connected Arts District

During the meeting, city leaders expressed an interest in combining revitalization of the Torpedo Factory with the Old Town North Arts & Cultural District, and Wilson said revitalization plans can move forward on multiple fronts simultaneously.

“My goal is not to stand still,” Wilson said. “This is not a one-month undertaking to piece all this together. My hope is for us to continue to make progress… With an acknowledgment that we’ve already endorsed the vibrancy plan and will put together a structure that makes sense. We have to be able to do two things at once.”

City Council member Mo Seifeldein added a suggested task force comprised of artists, community members, the Archeology Museum, and potentially City Council members to look at creating a consolidated body to oversee all the city’s artistic real estate.

Baker noted that major renovation at the Torpedo Factory won’t start until 2026, but other changes within the building — like the rearrangement of artist spaces — could happen sooner than that.

“While the studies, debate and acrimony surrounding the Torpedo Factory have continued, the City has worked to expand the amount of space in our community dedicated to the arts,” Mayor Justin Wilson wrote in a memo. “Per our request, our staff has brought us a series of alternatives to consider. While a decision to select an individual alternative would not be immediately actionable in its current form, the areas of broad agreement from the various studies provide a set of principles that can and should be adopted by City Council at this time.”

The city voted to approve the principles laid out in the memo.

“The Torpedo Factory has got a long way to go in terms of — I don’t want to say modernizing, but for heaven’s sake fix the toilet,” said City Council member Del Pepper. “The whole thing looks like it’s 1950. Let’s do some of the things that can be done.”

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