Alexandria, VA

Morning Notes

Virginia Rolls Back Some Restrictions on Dining, Outdoor Gatherings — Effective Mar. 1, Virginians will be able to buy and drink alcohol at restaurants, food courts, breweries, distilleries, and wineries until they are required to close at midnight. The changes to the current executive order come amid declining rates of hospitalizations and infections and rising vaccination rates in the Commonwealth, Northam said during a press conference this morning (Wednesday).” [Reston Now]

Alexandria Black History Museum Launches Online Exhibition — “Following George Floyd’s murder on May 25, 2020, the Alexandria Black History Museum (ABHM) requested that Alexandria residents share their thoughts, artwork, and more. ABHM wanted to document the Alexandria community’s response of this tragic event and preserve it for future generations. An online exhibition featuring the items received so far launched recently on the Historic Alexandria Online portal. The items collectively are called the Black Lives Remembered Collection.” [Zebra]

Leaders Predict What Alexandria Will Look Like in the Year 2050 — “You pop into the Torpedo Factory and delve into the immersive beauty of art and technology combined, then get your caffeine fix with ease as a retinal scan captures your regular favorite brew — fair trade of course, because all coffee is these days. With a coffee in hand, you board one of the free electric trolleys that departs every 10 minutes from King Street to any of the city’s neighborhoods — Potomac Yard, Inova West, Carlyle, Arlandria, Del Ray and more.[Alexandria Living]

Council Approves Newport Village Development — “UDR Newport Village LLC, has received approval for a development special use permit to tear down two garden-style apartments and build a multifamily residential building with 383 units near Northern Virginia Community College. According to the plans, 24 units would be studios, 255 would be one-bedroom units, and 104 would be two-bedroom units. At least a dozen of the units would be affordable, and the developer is making a contribution to the affordable housing fund.” [Alexandria Living]

City Environmental Award Nominations Open — “Know someone who is committed to protecting the environment and sustaining Alexandria’s natural resources? Nominate them for the Ellen Pickering Environmental Excellence Award by March 25.” [Twitter]

George Washington Reenactor Conducting Community Conversations — “Join George Washington every Friday in February as he discusses his life during various periods of his life and engages the audience. The first week will be about his youth, the second week will delve into the American War for Independence, the third week will cover his post-war retirement at Mount Vernon and his time presiding over the Constitutional Convention, and the last installment will cover his Presidency and final retirement years.” [Visit Alexandria]

Today’s Weather — “Mainly sunny (during the day). High 52F. Winds NW at 10 to 15 mph… Partly cloudy (in the evening). Low 31F. Winds light and variable.” [Weather.com]

New Job: Pastry Chef/Baker — “Seeking a full time pastry and/or bread baker for high quality artisan bread and pastry company. We are looking for a creative self starter who has attention to detail and a variety of skills from cookies and brownies to cakes, ice cream, mousses, desserts and pies- laminating skills a plus but not necessary. Creativity, drive and a strong work ethic are critical. This position comes with a lot of freedom to develop new items and grow the business. You will be producing a menu of set items according to our recipes but we are looking for someone who can creatively and efficiently develop and add more items- this is a growth position.” [Indeed]

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It was a cold and snowy week in Alexandria.

Our top story this week was on plans to redevelop the GenOn power plant in Old Town North. It looks like deconstruction of the plant will start in 2023 and developers are looking at converting it into an urban, mixed-use property with housing.

The short work week started with news that Alexandria reached 10,000 cases of COVID-19. The latest figures show that there are 10,113 cases and 104 total deaths in the city, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The city’s seven-day moving average is now 35.1 cases.

A 49-year-old homeless woman was found dead in Arlandria on Tuesday morning, and the mayor told us that homelessness is on the rise in the city. ALXnow is following up with the city on the issue.

Tuesday morning also brought news that Alexandria City Councilman Mo Seifeldein abandoned his run for mayor and will not seek reelection to council. Seifeldein was hired as a trial lawyer by the U.S. Department of Labor in Jan. 2020, and while he can finish out his term on council, he can not run unless he files as an independent candidate.

In other election news, the race for city council is starting to get crowded, as Bill Rossello, a co-founder of the Bring Integrity Back to Alexandria Facebook Group, just threw his hat into the ring.

On the vaccine front, the waiting list has surpassed 45,000 and it may be until late summer that the vaccine is widely available in the city. On Thursday, Mayor Justin Wilson also asked the governor to open vaccine eligibility for restaurant, personal care and retail workers.

More than 200 people responded to this week’s poll on power outages. There have been a number of outages over tha last year, and 73% of respondents reported experiencing an outage, while 26% report that their homes haven’t been impacted.

In case you missed them, here are some other important stories this week:

Here are our top stories of the week in Alexandria:

  1. Developers Lay Out Multi-Year Timeline for GenOn Plant Redevelopment
  2. BREAKING: Homeless Woman Found Dead on Mount Vernon Avenue
  3. Alexandria Boxer Troy Isley Goes Pro With Big Fight Next Week
  4. Seifeldein Not Running for Mayor, Leaving Alexandria City Council
  5. ALXnow’s Top Stories this Week in Alexandria
  6. Director of Finance: Alexandria’s Real Estate Assessments Are a ‘Tale of Two Markets’
  7. Local Business Owner Robbed of Car While Pumping Gas at Old Town Gas Station
  8. Torpedo Factory Overhaul Heads to City Council Next Month
  9. Snow: Up to 6 Inches of Snow and Ice Expected in Alexandria
  10. BREAKING: Alexandria Police Investigate Second Car Stolen While Owner Pumps Gas
  11. Local Facebook Watchdog Group Founder Bill Rossello Announces Run for City Council

Have a safe weekend!

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A plan to reinvigorate the Torpedo Factory is headed to the City Council for review early next month after a quick introduction last Tuesday.

The city took over the Torpedo Factory Art Center in 2016 and relations with the artists in the facility have sometimes been tense, with disagreements over how leases should be handled and some artists expressing frustrations at ongoing rent during the pandemic.

In the upcoming plan for the Torpedo Factory, city staff laid out a strategy they hope will drive up engagement at the facility when tourism slowly crawls back into Old Town when coronavirus has passed.

According to the plan:

Increasing the number of guests and increasing the intensity of their learning and artistic experience will make the Art Center a premier arts destination for the region. Interactive, immersive experiences, family fun, festivals and art fairs are all ways to increase the public engagement and enjoyment of the Art Center. The re-imagined Art Center, with its emphasis on public engagement and alignment with the City’s art and waterfront development plans, will create a new personality and identity for the Art Center. This new identity will need to be marketed to a wider audience.

Part of this plan is to make the Torpedo Factory more events and dining focused, with an emphasis on hosting arts festivals and family-friendly entertainment to get more people in the door.

The new plan also hopes to overhaul the first floor to prioritize hands-on activities for visitors and more “public-facing” features.

The last part of the plan, and the one most behind-the-scenes but also the one that could have the biggest impact on artists in the facility, involves a “re-jurying process to ensure vibrancy and vitality based on new artist selection process.” The plan could involve cycling more artists through the facility with existing artists competing against newer applicants for spaces.

Long term, the city is also planning to bring in a contractor to identify maintenance issues in the building and sort through the building’s infrastructure needs.

The plan is scheduled for a more in-depth discussion at the upcoming March 9 City Council meeting.

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A new exhibit at the Torpedo Factory Art Center set to launch tomorrow aims to blend the virtual and in-person tourism that’s likely to be a cornerstone for local galleries as the pandemic rages on.

The series is called Movements, Moments and features six filmed movement-based performances as part of a larger gallery featuring 20 artists.

The series also incorporates elements of national dialogue over the last year, from protests over racial inequality to feelings of isolation brought about by coronavirus.

According to a press release:

LaRissa Roger’s filmed performance piece ‘We’ve Always Been Here, Like Hydrogen, Like Oxygen’ is a two-channel video depicting Roger’s rubbing her body with an orange. The fruit recalls the murder of Latasha Harlins, whose death after being wrongfully accused of stealing a bottle of orange juice inspired the 1992 LA riots. The work addresses what it is to inhabit the world in the body of a black woman. She uses the orange as symbolism of being pasteurized, commodified, and sold for consumption. This motion and action of cleansing herself is an act of self-care and resistance.

The exhibit is scheduled to launch with a virtual reception via Facebook Live tomorrow, Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. The exhibit will be open Wednesday-Sunday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. with limited visitor capacity to allow for social distancing. The gallery is on view through Sunday, March 7.

Image courtesy Torpedo Factory Art Center

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Alexandria city staff are proposing that the Torpedo Factory Art Center undergo a transformation. The city, which took over the waterfront attraction in 2016, is looking at a new jurying process for artists, installing pop-up shops and restaurants, a renovated first floor with family-friendly “make-it spaces” and more educational experiences.

The “Action Plan for Vibrancy & Sustainability at Torpedo Factory Art Center” is the culmination of multiple city reports on how to improve the facility, which traditionally sees more than a half a million visitors annually. Staff say that 24- month short-term and five-year long-term plans have been developed to take care of immediate and long-term needs.

“As the Art Center re-imagines itself for the 21st century, it will need to challenge its internal policies, practices, and business model in accordance with best practices and industry standards to become a sustainable organization,” according to the action plan. “Its resources will have to be optimally deployed to maximize the impact of every dollar.”

As for the artists and the jurying process, the report said that the city should:

  • Design and implement an impeccable, credible, artist selection process to determine studio leases. Grounded in best practices, selection is based on art quality, ability to work and interact with the public, working for greater good of Art Center/community, and diversity including media, place in career, and personal background.
  • Similar to current “Post Grad Residency” at the Art Center, establish specific short-term studio residences for specific demographics such as career level or new media.
  • Offer artists professional and business development seminar(s) (open to all).

The Art League school is the largest tenant, and staff would “investigate” moving it to the first floor of the building. The next largest occupant is The Alexandria Archeology Museum, and Ivy Whitlatch, chair of the Alexandria Archaeology Commission wrote City Council asking that the city focus on the art center’s historical background as a munitions factory that built torpedoes during World War II.

“Together, this short-term action plan and long-term plan will combine to shape a 21st Century Art Center ready to successfully and sustainably serve the City of Alexandria and greater community for the next decade,” notes the action plan.

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Morning Notes

New Torpedo Factory Art Features Local Waste — “The AlexRenew Wastewater Treatment Facility treats a mix of sewage and storm water. The facility runs the wastewater through a series of settling tanks and treatment processes to remove nutrients before discharging it to tributaries of the Potomac River. The brown-colored media was crowdsourced from thousands of area toilets, according to Len.” [WWD Magazine]

Work Resumes on the Fairfax Building with the Massive Fire — “It’s been 10 months since a devastating fire at the South Alex construction site near Alexandria, Virginia, but the project is back up and running.” [WTOP]

New Cafe Vía Volcán Profiled — “Twenty-plus years after buying a farm in the Volcán Barú area of Panama and a little over one year since they began selling roasted beans, Chris and Janina McCausland have opened a brick-and-mortar store for Vía Volcán Coffee in the Old Town neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia.” [Daily Coffee News]

Officials Celebrate Big Week for Alexandria Affordable Housing — “We broke the ground on the Wesley Housing Waypoint project, bringing 81 units serving 30-60 AMI and… We cut the ribbon on Bloom by Carpenter Shelter & AHDCHousing with a new shelter and 97 units (40-60 AMI)!” [Twitter]

Zebra Profiles Local Jeweler Who Changed Christmas in Old Town — “For 32 years, David Martin has made jewelry sparkle in his Alexandria shop, Gold Works, but his iconic charms aren’t all he has done to beautify our city. Take a walk up King Street at this festive time of year and you’ll see firsthand how Martin has beautified Alexandria.” [Zebra]

Local Nonprofit and VT Alum Build Desks for Students — “Building Momentum, a local “problem solving organization,” has been providing easy-to-assemble desks to Alexandria students since the start of the fall 2020 school year, and now some Virginia Tech alumni have joined the project…” [Alexandria Times]

Staff photo by Jay Westcott

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Morning Notes

Latest Torpedo Factory Plan Redesigns First Floor — “As far as the first floor, staff plans to make the space more interactive, which could involve relocating artists throughout the building. Specifically, Ruggiero mentioned relocating a print-maker studio from the third floor to the first, as well as the Art League’s art supply store.” [Alexandria Times]

Alexandria Offers Emergency Child Care for Low Income Families — “The Alexandria City Council approved a request in September from DCHS and the Alexandria Emergency Child Care Collaborative (ECCC) to utilize Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to support this child care initiative. The initiative is limited to 150 children total, who will be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis.” [City of Alexandria]

Alexandria Restaurant Partners Seeking Chef for New Concept — “As we are moving our Majestic Culinary team to our newest Concept, Ada’s on The River, we are interviewing for an experienced and passionate Executive Chef and Sous Chef to join our team” [Salary]

Veterans Commemorate Amid Pandemic — “On Nov. 11, the Friends of Rocky Versace commemorated the 102nd anniversary of the armistice to end World War I with a Veterans Day ceremony at Blessed Sacrament School Hall, a change from its usual location at Mount Vernon Recreation Center due to COVID-19 restrictions.” [Alexandria Gazette]

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The Torpedo Factory Art Center is one of Alexandria’s cultural landmarks of the waterfront. But as the city moves forward with other modernizing changes to the waterfront, it is also turning an eye towards overhauling the Torpedo Factory to be more of a “hands-on” public attraction.

A series of recommendations in a recently released action plan include plans the city hopes will turn parts of the Torpedo Factory into a more engaging artistic space.

The first part of the plan is to “re-establish the Art Center’s identity for a 21st century audience.” In practice, this would mean greater utilization of the facility as a space for gatherings and festivities. The first action under that subheading is “celebrate food as art” with food and drink-centered events and festivals in partnership with restaurants and breweries.

Other proposals to re-establish the facility’s identity include implementing a focus on new technological development utilized in artwork and recurring family-friendly and educational experiences.

Lastly, this portion of the plan included a recommendation that artists are encouraged to participate in “on the road” pop-ups along the waterfront to bring the program more into the public eye.

Part of the plan involved reshaping the ground floor experience of the Torpedo Factory. The action plan called for better utilization and upgrades to first floor studios with more hands-on opportunities and “spectacles” likes printmaking and glass making. This would involve a reshuffling of existing studios to put “public-facing” features on the first floor.

In general, the plan highlighted more engagement with visitors over the traditional viewing experience of the Torpedo Factory. The reimagined Torpedo Factory would have “make-it space” type activities on the first floor. The Art League Store could also potentially be moved to the first floor in the redesign. Read More

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This was a big week for Alexandria.

Our top story this week was the Alexandria School Board’s decision to reopen schools for students with disabilities, while the future reopening of school for elementary, middle and high schoolers remains in doubt.

Superintendent Gregory Hutchings, Jr. said that the only feasible option for reopening schools — based on distancing and staffing constraints — would be for students to rotate to in-person schooling only one day per week. Hutchings also appeared on CNN and said that ACPS is not likely to fully reopen until there is a vaccine for the coronavirus.

We also reported that the Alexandria City Council approved plans for Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus and the North Potomac Yard development plan, virtually paving the way for the college to open its doors to hundreds of students by 2024.

“This is a very significant set of decisions for the city, and is really going to shape, not just a portion of our city, but really the entirety of our city for a long period of time to come,” said Mayor Justin Wilson.

On the coronavirus front, there are now 75 deaths in Alexandria and there are now or have been more than 4,100 cases since the pandemic began in March. Latino residents continue to lead the case count.

Governor Ralph Northam and Virginia Transportation Secretary Shannon Valentine were in the city on Monday to unveil a team of new zero emission DASH electric buses.

We also reported that the City Council unanimously approved naming the 1000 block of Montgomery Street in Old Town “Earl F. Lloyd Way” in honor of the first Black man to ever play in the National Basketball Association.

Restaurant-wise, we spoke with one of the owners of a pizza and burger joint that is taking over the former location of Pizzeria Paradiso on lower King Street. The Chewish Deli is also now open in Old Town, and the owner of Del Ray Boccato says that his gelato shop will soon open.

Additionally, more than 175 people participated in our weekly poll. With the November 3 election around the corner, this week we asked about voting plans, and 65% of respondents voted by mail/absentee, 31% plan to vote on election day, and 4% are not voting.

Here are ALXnow’s top stories this week in Alexandria:

  1. School Board Shelves Plan to Reopen Schools in 2021, Students with Disabilities Transitioning Back Next Month
  2. City Releasing Torpedo Factory Draft Action Plan Today
  3. City Council Approves Virginia Tech Innovation Campus and North Potomac Yard Development Plan
  4. Alexandria Student Called N-Word in Online Forum, and Not By Another Student
  5. Republican Jeff Jordan Running Uphill Battle Against Incumbent Rep. Don Beyer
  6. The Chewish Deli Opens New Location in Old Town
  7. One Arrested After Attempted Armed Robbery in Alexandria’s West End
  8. Report: ACPS Superintendent Sends Child to Bishop Ireton High School
  9. Female Suspect Flees, Nothing Taken in Attempted Old Town Bank Robbery
  10. Alexandria and Arlington Want a New Future for the Northern Virginia Juvenile Detention Center
  11. Alexandria Courthouse Deep Cleaned After Employee Tests Positive for COVID-19

Have a safe weekend!

Photo via ACPS/Facebook

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Alexandria will release a draft action plan for revitalizing the Torpedo Factory Art Center today (October 16), and the proposal on the table includes a front entrance on the waterfront and a more interactive experience for families.

The city took over operations of the Torpedo Factory in 2016, and the art center traditionally sees more than a half a million visitors every year. But Diane Ruggiero, the city’s deputy director for recreation, parks and cultural activities, says that it doesn’t have a family-friendly atmosphere.

“A lot of the focus of the plan is about activating the first floor, kind of changing that initial experience that people have when they come into the art center,” Ruggiero told ALXnow. “We do know that folks want a more engaging and interactive experience from an arts perspective.”

There are more than 80 studios in the building, and artist studios take up 70% of the building. The largest tenant, The Art League school, art supply store, gallery and offices takes up 12% of occupancy. Its next largest occupant is The Alexandria Archeology Museum.

“I think the liveliness of the Art Center has always been something that has come back as a criticism of the Art Center, even pre-COVID,” Ruggiero said. “Some of the feedback that we had from the community is that there’s not a lot going on there that’s family friendly.”

The draft plan was developed by two consultants and Ruggiero says it will be on the city’s website later today.

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