After taking some flack for not having the financial impacts at-hand; Diane Ruggiero, director of the Office of the Arts, returned to the Waterfront Commission on Monday with pricing for modernizing the Torpedo Factory.
Julian Gonsalves, assistant city manager for public/private partnerships, talked through the cost estimates for the Torpedo Factory overhaul. Continuing as-is, with relatively minor building repairs funded over time with artist space being left mostly untouched, was priced at $16 million.
Gonsalves said continuing as-is — called incremental revitalization in the city plans — keeps the existing rent policy in place, but Gonsalves said that the current rent structure essentially only covers the cost of maintaining the building and not any of the proposed improvements to the building like new restrooms or increased waterfront access, so those capital improvements would only be made when there is room in the annual Capital Improvement Plan budget.
The underlying theme from the city’s presentation was that if the city is going to invest more into the Torpedo Factory, it wants a more vibrant and active attraction than what currently exists. The more sweeping changes under consideration would be leasing out the ground floor to private development, but city staff and ultimately the Waterfront Commission are more favorable toward a “custom program” — where the city retains ownership of the building and coordinates public-private partnerships for the ground floor.
Both the custom program and the ground floor leasing option — which amount to differences in management rather than significant architectural changes — are priced at $41.5 million. That price includes some foundational work that allows for new waterfront access and other changes to the ground floor, new restrooms, and “tenant improvements and enhancements.”
Gonsalves said the construction would likely start in 2025 and take 18 months, during which artists may be relocated to a different space.
Another takeaway from the financial considerations is that the dream of rooftop access is more or less dead. Making the rooftop feasible for use would cost an estimated $27.8 million; a combination of foundation reworking costs to support rooftop use and needed accessibility changes, like new elevators and stairs. The staff report indicated that the total cost to build and maintain the roof as a usable space far exceeded the potential revenue gained from any rooftop use.
The custom and ground floor leasing plans have drawn some backlash from artists for reducing the overall studio space in the building. During the meeting, city staff tiptoed around the issue, portraying the potential ground-floor restaurant use as “culinary arts” and saying the changes give the chance to bring in a wider range of artistic spaces like glassblowing studios.
“All the scenarios present the artists being there,” Gonsalves said. “This will be an art-focused building. This is not the artists being moved out of the Torpedo Factory. This is to ensure that we can plan for the Torpedo Factory of the 21st century.”
But Gonsalves did acknowledge that overall studio space for artists in the new plans would decrease. Diane Ruggiero, director of the Office of the Arts, said that more limited studio space might be better used by artist collectives rather than individual artists.
Reception from the Waterfront Commission was mixed.
“These are not specific plans despite years of studies,” said Commissioner Christina Watters. “We are now getting a quickly thrown-together plan that does not take responsibility for what needs to happen here. Artists have been engineered out.”
Watters also said the city is selectively using profitability as a measure of what to include, noting that a single restaurant operating on the ground floor is unlikely to be the revenue-generating machine that will recoup the costs of construction.
“I think the thought that looking at the Torpedo Factory, one of the jewels of our waterfront, as a negotiable source of revenue that we would farm out to some developer who would make the future profits is a grave mistake,” Watters said.
Commissioner Gina Baum was less sympathetic to the concerns of decreased artist studio space.
“[The] artists have been oppositional…at every turn have taken an oppositional stance,” Baum said. “I’ve had it with the do-nothing crowd… If the artists want to continue to fight like they are, they are going to dig their own grave. That is the reality of this situation. The city cannot afford to just sustain this as-is. Something needs to be done.”
Baum also dismissed a petition by artists to save studio space, calling it “garbage” and saying that she was sure that half of those signing don’t live in Alexandria.
The Waterfront Commission ultimately voted in favor of the custom program and will forward a letter of recommendation to the City Council for their meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 14.
The city is hosting virtual public meetings on Thursday, Dec. 9 at 7 p.m. and Friday, Dec. 10 at noon. Registration is required and each meeting is scheduled to last about an hour. Those wishing to speak on the plans can also do so at the Alexandria Commission for the Arts tomorrow (Tuesday) at 7 p.m.
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, though artists in the building have pushed back against plans that could reduce the studio capacity in the building.
According to a press release from the city, three frameworks are being considered:
- Incremental Revitalization: This scenario assumes that mostly modest improvements would be made in the near term, including reinvesting in the building to perform substantial deferred maintenance.
- Custom Program: The City would manage and fund capital improvements in a mixed-use space to enable subsidized art uses and market rate revenue generating use options that will help pay for a portion of the rehabilitation.
- Ground Lease: A private entity would develop, operate, maintain, and lease the facility for mixed use in a 40-year term lease.
Less than one week after the first of the virtual public meetings, the scenarios are scheduled to be presented to the City Council at their Tuesday, Dec. 14 meeting. The press release said the city will not be deciding on a plan, but developing scenarios based on guidance.
“There are currently no plans being presented; only concepts are being proposed,” the press release said. “Based on guidance provided by the City Council, staff will further develop a scenario in more detail. Plan development will begin at a later point once a scenario is chosen.”
Arts commission criticizes proposed changes to Torpedo Factory — “The city’s proposals for the future of the Torpedo Factory Art Center have received criticism from artists, and during its Nov. 16 meeting, the city’s Commission for the Arts fired some warning shots as well.” [Alexandria Times]
Alexandria ranks third in national office conversions — “Number of office-to-apartment conversions: 955” [CNBC]
Holiday Card Lane returns to Del Ray — “Now much more than one street, the nationally-famous holiday cheer effort returns.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]
LA Musician got her start in Mount Vernon — “Fort Hunt alumni Julie Gigante started playing the violin at age 5 and now is featured on an 11,000-square-foot mural in Los Angeles.” [Alexandria Gazette]
Baseball game raises $10,000 for SRO/International Academy soccer program — “Thank you to The Congressional Baseball Game for Charity for their continued support of our SROs Gary and Johnny’s soccer program at the International Academy at Alexandria City High School.” [Facebook]
Washington Post digs into Torpedo Factory fight — “As the Alexandria City Council is set to consider three sharply different visions on how to fund renovations and bring in more visitors, some of the artists at the Torpedo Factory fear they will be kicked out for good. And while the city contends that will not happen, several ideas on the table call for at least some studios to be converted to other uses.” [Washington Post]
Alexandria Choral Society raises $4,790 for charity — “Thank you to everyone who contributed to our #GivingTuesday fundraiser this week. Because of your generosity, we raised $4790, over twice our goal!” [Twitter]
Alexandria Living Magazine profiles the city’s Rock n’ Roll legends — “Some of the country’s most famous musical acts have ties to Alexandria.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]
The top story this week was on Sunday, when a driver struck and killed local resident Roy Saravia Alvarez. The driver, Fredy Ortiz-Dominguez of Hyattsville, Maryland, was arrested last night and charged with involuntary manslaughter.
Here were the most-read stories around ALXnow this week:
- UPDATED: Pedestrian struck and killed in Arlandria
- Construction begins for Inova’s massive Oakville Triangle project
- Petition gains steam to save Torpedo Factory artist studios
- Multi-use development at 1300 King Street could be finished by late 2022, says developer
- City considers axing Complete Streets feedback form
- Deterioration forces additional closures to Arlington-Alexandria bridge
- Francis C. Hammond Middle School student suspended for alleged ‘shooting up the school’ message
- Alexandria looks to improve Van Dorn Street bridge and Holmes Run Trail crossing
- Archeologists discover new pieces of early 19th century waterfront brewery in Old Town
- New field lighting baked into Minnie Howard campus expansion permitting
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.”
As of Today (Monday, Nov. 15), more than 3,200 people have signed a petition asking the city to keep artists in studios on the first floor instead of replacing those studios with amenities, including a completely remodeled first floor, a new restaurant and a roof deck.
“Some of these plans include reduce the number of individual artist studios in the building by up to 40%, as well as sweeping aside ALL artist studios on the first floor and replacing it with cheap money-making venues such as restaurants,” notes the Change.org petition, which was launched three weeks ago by artist M. Alexander Gray.
Per the plan, the second floor of the art center would be artist studios, and the Art League school would move up to the third floor.
“Make your voice heard!” states the petition. “DO NOT let hardworking artists get booted out and replaced with cheap entertainments! DO NOT let the City tamper with this unique cultural treasure!”
City staff acknowledge that there will be a reduction in space for artists, and Council will review the plans in December.
The art center, which receives an estimated 500,000 visitors annually, has been managed by the City since 2018, taking over for the nonprofit Torpedo Factory Art Center Board, which ran it for five years. For a dozen years before that it was managed by the Torpedo Factory Artists Association, and previously was managed by the City for more than two decades.
City’s Torpedo Factory plans concern artists — “A recent presentation from the Office of the Arts outlining several proposed options for how to renovate the Torpedo Factory has led to pushback from artists, who claim the city’s plans would radically and irrevocably change the historic art center.” [Alexandria Times]
Alexandria man convicted of armed fentanyl trafficking — “A federal jury convicted an Alexandria man yesterday on charges of conspiracy, possession, and distribution of fentanyl and Eutylone, and being a felon in possession of a firearm during drug trafficking.” [Department of Justice]
Alexandria micro-roasters talk beans, brews and batches — “A few Alexandrians are taking their passion for coffee to the next level and roasting their own beans and selling them in small batches.” [Alexandria Living Magazine]
City of Alexandria wins 3 awards for employee wellness program — “The City of Alexandria is the winner of three awards for a wellness program designed to help its employees.” [Zebra]
Torpedo Factory artist starts petition to save art spaces — “Some of these plans include reduce the number of individual artist studios in the building by up to 40%, as well as sweeping aside ALL artist studios on the first floor and replacing it with cheap money-making venues such as restaurants.” [Change.org]
Parental group protests outside National School Board association headquarters — “In Alexandria, Virginia Wednesday Moms For America protested the request by the NSBA to have the FBI investigate parents at some school districts in front of the NSBA headquarters.” [WJLA]
Matt Gillette’s Memorial Fund raises twice its goal — “In your generosity, please consider helping Abby and Baby E navigate this tremendously difficult time by contributing to this fund. Every little bit helps.” [GoFundMe]
Mount Vernon church closes with a massive donation — “The closing of a church can be devastating to its members. But Messiah Lutheran Church in Alexandria decided to leave a remarkable legacy to its broader community when it recently shuttered.” [WJLA]
The city is looking at options to move things around in the Torpedo Factory and insert some surprises into activity holes on the ground floor.
In a Torpedo Factory Art Center Implementation Strategy Update meeting, Diane Ruggiero, deputy director of recreation, parks and cultural activities, outlined options being reviewed that could lead to some radical changes for the Torpedo Factory.
In addition to an option to keep the Torpedo Factory more-or-less as it currently exists, other options being considered include a potentially expensive rooftop addition or handing management of the Torpedo Factory’s ground floor off to a private-public partnership.
While opening up the rooftop sounds simple enough, Ruggiero said the building would need a significant overhaul in order to handle the added weight and usage.
“As it currently exists, the building is at capacity,” Ruggiero said. “We’re at a little over 100 years old. Building standards and construction materials are very different than what they were. The addition of the second floor mezzanine in the 1980s used up that little bit of wiggle room, that extra capacity.”
Ruggiero said work on the roof would require large-scale renovations to the building’s foundation.
“If a rooftop were pursued, that would require the removal of the ground floor slab so the pilings could be accessed and a new metal gridwork system added and the ground floor slab being replaced,” Ruggiero said. “Essentially, the whole first floor would be replaced. That’s a significant and expensive undertaking, just to make the rooftop usable.”
One alternative being considered is making more of the waterfront side of the first floor open to the exterior, which would require some structural work but not as much as a rooftop amenity, Ruggiero said. There are few specific details on cost for the projects, but Ruggiero said the cost estimating and financial feasibility is currently being worked on.
Under the second option, parts of that space could still be broken up piecemeal as private investments in the building. In particular, Ruggiero said part of the ground floor could be used as a cafe.
The idea faced some pushback from others in the meeting, who noted that previous cafes on the ground floor of the Torpedo Factory have failed, but Ruggiero said the hope plans for further opening of the ground to the rest of the waterfront could make it more accessible.
Ruggiero said plans for the Torpedo Factory could entail pushing more of the artists studios higher in the building to open up room for a maker-space on the ground floor — a sort of collaborative workspace — and a glass blowing studio.
Ruggiero also said that the glass studio would include “gloryholes” — spaces for reheating glass to soften it up. If the city adds glass blowing to the Torpedo Factory, Ruggiero said the studio would likely have 2-4 furnaces.
The change would mean around 40% less overall space for artists. The second floor would be all-studios, with the Art League moved up to the third floor along with archeology and more studio space.
“I don’t think fewer square feet necessarily means fewer artists,” Ruggiero said. “We’re still bringing artists to the building, just different kinds of artists than what we currently have… [but] yes, there is a net reduction in space allocated for studios [compared to what] we currently see in the building.”
There will be another update on the plan sometime in November before it heads to the City Council review in December.