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Looking To Renovate, Alexandria's Torpedo Factory Hits Stumbling Blocks

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Leaders at the Torpedo Factory want to renovate to take advantage of the exterior facing the Alexandria waterfront.
Adam Fagen: https://flic.kr/p/cjK3Bj
Leaders at the Torpedo Factory want to renovate to take advantage of the exterior facing the Alexandria waterfront.

Leaders at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Alexandria are hoping to rebrand and launch a renovation, but the organization that leads the center is facing some obstacles.

Walking into the Torpedo Factory, visitors are greeted with cracked tiles, banners with an outdated old logo and donated seating from an old movie theater. Some say it's like walking into a time machine from 1983, the last time the art center was renovated.

"We have a lot of signage that is handmade, a lot of display cases that are very out of date," says Eric Wallner, CEO of the art center, where visitors can watch artists at work and browse through galleries. "Like this is a great example here. We are looking at a big black design case that I'm guessing is from the mid-80s."

Several years ago, city leaders became concerned that the art center, originally constructed as a factory to build torpedoes, was not profitable enough. So they created a new control board, bringing in business leaders to breathe new life into the organization by creating a nonprofit organization to lead it. But treasurer Penny Barringer says the new organizational structure has been limiting.

"Some of the people we've applied to grants for say you're not really a typical 501©(3) because you are a government board. So that's giving us some difficulties," Barringer says.

Last week, Wallner asked the city waive $137,000 of utility costs and rent so the organization could purchase new banners and signs with the art center's new logo. The elected officials said no, sending leaders here back to the drawing board.

"I feel we've always shied away from the military history of the building. We've made great efforts to not talk about torpedoes and the military and different things like that. And it's such a wonderful part of the story," says Christopher Erney, president of the artist's association.

It's a story that's still in a state of flux. If they raise enough money for a renovation, one of the goals would be to move the main entrance of the building from the side facing Old Town to the side facing the Potomac River, an effort to incorporate the art center into the redeveloped waterfront.

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