To the Editor:
The article in the Gazette Packet last week [“Battle at Torpedo Factory”] fails to highlight the problem that the City of Alexandria has been giving the Art League an extraordinary deal on the rent of the building over the past 40 years.
The city currently receives $370,000 (they want to pay less but that is another story) per year for 72,500 square feet of prime waterfront space (about $5 per square foot) plus utilities. This compares to $20 - $25 per square foot that everyone else pays for commercial space in the area. The difference between what the city gets and what they could get if they charged a market rate rent is about $1 - $2 million per year.
If the status quo stands, the taxpayers of Alexandria will be on the hook to pay for this shortfall of potential revenue so that the Art League can continue to enjoy their highly discounted rental rates for the Torpedo Factory.
I contacted the City Manager’s office to determine whether there would be an effort to obtain competitive bids to rent space at a market rate (and why wouldn’t they do it if they were planning to continue on with the current arrangement). The answer I got from the City Manager was that “… the Torpedo Factory is a City investment in the arts and is not intended to achieve a ‘highest and best’ in regard to direct fiscal return on investment for the City … However, we are interesting (sic) in achieving the best possible outcomes in regard to the use of the Torpedo Factory building for arts/artists’ purposes …”
As a taxpayer I am both sickened and outraged that the city has allowed this situation to continue as long as it has. We have an asset that is worth hundreds of millions of dollars that apparently provides no tangible benefits to the city at large.
And furthermore, there is evidence that no one in the city cares about generating income to lessen the reliance on property tax revenue. After all, the taxpayer ATM is without limit, and we certainly can’t expect that special people in the city have to pay what others would pay.
At the same time the city is providing highly discounted rental rates and other perks to the Art League, they are also saying that they need to significantly raise tax rates to pay for essentials (e.g., infrastructure, maintenance, etc.). Yes, we do have a number of essential items that we need and we need to start paying for these services by eliminating the perks that special interests are getting.
I don’t mind paying taxes for services and things that help people who need it, but I do object to paying more taxes just because people don’t want to pay their fair share when they can (this includes artists who are probably not starving, developers, insurance companies and billion dollar corporations).
The current contract with the Art League is set to expire in June. Everybody who feels strongly about this issue should communicate their views to the City Council as soon as possible.