What would a renovated Torpedo Factory Art Center look like?

The Torpedo Factory Art Center, on the Alexandria, Virginia, waterfront, hasn’t been renovated since the 1980s. (City of Alexandria/Geoff Livingston)

The Torpedo Factory Art Center, on the Alexandria, Virginia, waterfront, hasn’t been renovated since the 1980s. It remains unclear what kind of renovation might happen now, but artists in the area are concerned that renovation plans might leave them out.

M. Alexander Gray, who started the petition Don’t Let Them Kick Out the Artists on change.org, was among artists and community members who voiced opposition to proposed renovation scenarios that are being explored at last month’s Commission for the Arts meeting.

Gray said a scenario that would move existing artists off the first floor “would dismantle one of the most successful art centers in the country, disperse its members and threaten their livelihoods.”

Susan Cohen, who produces ceramics on the Torpedo Factory’s first floor, said, “The plan currently being discussed removes the artists’ studios and the Art League Gallery from the first floor, and the gallery space is being reduced by 23%. As a result, visitors on the first floor can eat in a restaurant or a cafe and engage in other activities, but they cannot interact with the artists working in their studios.”

A neighborhood sign supports artist opposition to proposed scenarios for Torpedo Factory changes. (WTOP/Kristi King)

Diane Ruggiero, with the Alexandria Office of the Arts, told WTOP “there are no plans at this point” for what will happen at the arts center, but that artists shouldn’t worry.

“I think what folks are concerned about is they feel decisions have already been made about how space would be allocated in the building, or they’re being told that artists are getting kicked out of the building,” Ruggerio said. “No artists are being kicked out.”

She added that “If the City Council were to pursue a renovation for the art center, that’s when the planning would begin.”

Scenarios can be seen on the Alexandria Arts Commission website, and cost estimates and financial feasibility studies are underway.

The three scenarios being explored:

Incremental revitalization: Essentially the status quo — modest improvements but no large capital investment.

Under the custom program the city would still manage the building and provide significant capital investment. Public-private partnerships in other places in the building would help offset costs. Ruggiero said tenants in the non-arts portion of the facility would pay market-rate rents, which would offset costs and allow the city to maintain significantly below-market-rate rent prices for artists.

Under the ground lease scenario, the city would issue a request for proposals for someone to manage the building, do all rehabilitation for mixed use and recruit a developer to make the capital investment in the building for the longer term. The city would continue to manage the arts functions in the building.

Ruggiero said art has changed over the 50 years the Torpedo Factory has been open, and the facility should continue to welcome artists.

“Artists are still central to the core of what the Torpedo Factory Art Center is, and we want to make sure that continues; it’d be great to bring in some new art forms, whether they’re the ones demonstrated in the scenarios, or other types of art forms,” she said.

The Office of the Arts will present financial scenarios for various options to Alexandria’s City Council next Tuesday.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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