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New Torpedo Factory governance structure could take inspiration from Visit Alexandria and AEDP

The Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town (staff photo by James Cullum)

A task force recommended to the City Council at a meeting last week that the Torpedo Factory Art Center (TFAC) be converted (item 9) to a “quasi-public entity.”

The recommendation from the task force, which included representatives from the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association, The Art League and more, is to transition ownership of the Torpedo Factory to “to a
Quasi-Public entity that has autonomy and authority to run daily operations.”

According to a presentation, the task force said:

  • Any new entity will need to meet defined performance metrics established by the
  • City will likely continue to supplement funding for TFAC operations and capital
    improvements, but the funding expectation of the new entity may increase over
  • The City has developed successful public-private partnerships with Visit Alexandria
    and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership that may be viable models
    for a new quasi-public entity for TFAC.

The task force said that the transition to a ‘quasi-public entity’ could occur over a two-to-three-year period.

The Torpedo Factory Art Center has a long and tumultuous relationship with the City of Alexandria. Back in 2016, the city stepped in to oversee operations at the Torpedo Factory after studies found maintenance and improvements to the facility would prove costly.

The quasi-public entity could be a middle ground between direct city ownership and the previous complicated relationship where the building was leased to the Torpedo Factory Art Center Board and subleased to the Torpedo Factory Artists’ Association and The Art League.

James Stevens, a principal with consultant ConsultEcon, said the idea would be to run the Torpedo Factory similar to Visit Alexandria and the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership (AEDP), bodies that receive supplemental funding from the city but have a degree of autonomy in their operations.

“We’re going to be bringing information out to stakeholders and other people in the community to get feedback,” said City Manager James Parajon.

Earlier this year, artists expressed concerns about city plans to reduce the amount of rented artist space in the building to make way for other uses, like a cafe or hands-on activities like gloryholes (spaces for reheating glass).

Some on the City Council were skeptical of this plan. Mayor Justin Wilson said he was concerned that the new governance structure would do little to change the Torpedo Factory being a money pit for the city.

“I’m trying to see where this succeeds,” said Wilson. “I remember hearing from members of the previous board that it was set up to fundraise, and there was never a compelling [donate]. They didn’t have anything, so it was hard to fundraise. Nobody was going to donate to nothing.”

The conversation also touched on plans for the Torpedo Factory Art Center’s 50th anniversary event next year.

Diane Ruggiero, deputy director of the Alexandria Department of Recreation, Parks and Cultural Activities, said the city will be putting together a committee next month (January) to start planning, with an event ultimately taking place sometime in September.

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