The Alexandria City Council has taken a long step toward final approval of the Torpedo Plant redevelopment project by accepting the recommendation of its Planning Commission to sell two buildings to a city developer.
The two buildings are on either side of Union Street, just off King Street.
The action was the most decisive yet taken by this council on the vexing question of giving up ownership of some of the torpedo complex, and brings the city, in Mayor Charles E. Beatley's words, "a giant step closer" to beginning the redevelopment process.l
One of the two buildings the council plans to sell to the Alexandria Waterfront Restoration Group is the giant donut-shaped building on the west side of Union, which is to be turned into 99 luxury condominium units. The other is a smaller structure on the east of Union Street, known as Building No. 3, which is scheduled to be reduced in size and turned into leased office space, according to a redevelopment plan approved by the city.
The seeds of the lingering problem over the torpedo complex were sown by the previous council when it chose the Restoration Group as the "preferred developer" last May.
Last spring, the council approved a plan by the firm, which called for the purchase of three buildings by the company. The development group had planned to use income from leasing office space in one of the buildings to help finance demolition and reconstruction of the other buildings. But the council gave its approval for the purchase of only one property, thus leaving in doubt whether the developer could finance the project under the original scheme.
Citizens groups, particularly residents of the nearby townhouse communities, expressed concern that giving up control of anything on the waterfront risked opening up the area to other commercial development.
Beatley, however, has said that the sale of the two buildings on either side of Union Street was critical to the success of the Torpedo Plant development project. In addition to providing the kind of financial package the restoration group wants, the eventual lease of office space in Building No. 3 is expected to bring tax dollars into the city coffers which will be used to offset city expenditures for such things as street maintenance and utility work, Beatley has said.
The sale of the two building requires a 6-to-1 approval by the council.No date has been set for a vote on the proposal.
At the same meeting, the council postponed a decision on the corner building, which houses the Torpedo Factory Artists Association. The artists have accepted a city proposal to move them to another Torpedo Plant building, which would be remodeled for the artists' use. The question remains whether the city will sell that building to the restoration group or retain it and lease it.
The new complex at Union and King streets would include a marina, shops, a health club and underground parking. But at public hearings, citizens have expressed a fear that turning the corner site over to a commercial developer might lead to the exploitation of the building for financial gain at the expense of the esthetics of the area.
The city staff has indicated that the financial questions are not as pressing with regard to the corner building as they are with Building No. 3, although the staff has recommended the sale of the corner building, too.
Under one plan for the corner building, the front section would be torn out and redesigned so it would be set back further from the street. The center section of the building would be opened up so that an indoor arcade, featuring fresh fruit and vegetable stands, would line its walls and pedestrians would have a clear view through the aisles to the Potomac River. Office space would be leased on the upper stories.