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In Fort Point, defense contractor forced out of development set aside for artists

The Boston-based subsidiary of a multinational defense contractor has caved to community pressure and agreed to move its assembly plant out of a Fort Point building that was envisioned as a haven for artists. Last night, the Boston Redevelopment Authority announced that Ops-Core -- manufacturer of military helmets including the "Skull Crusher," and a subsidiary of a company called Gentex -- would move its combat-helmet assembly plant from Midway Studios to a new location to be named later.

The sitcom-worthy clash between Midway Studios artists and defense contractor Ops-Core had been steadily rising in temperature. Artist tenants at the mixed-use building confronted Ops-Core after learning that the company was moving a helmet-assembly plant into a space that had been previously used as a community theater. That sparked an aggressively-worded response from Ops-Core co-founder David Rogers, who sent a letter to residents referring to the artists as "merely self-delluted [sic] bullshiters [sic] and drama queens who use art as an excuse to justify and rationalize their pathetic existence while mooching from others to sustain a living."

Meanwhile, Boston's inspectional services stepped in and forced the company to stop construction of the plant, citing concerns about toxic fumes. The Boston Redevelopment Authority attempted to calm the dispute by holding a community mediation session -- but that meeting, last week, devolved into a shouting match, as building residents laughed off the contractor's argument that Ops-Core's products are art, too

So the atmosphere was tense last night, at yet another meeting called by the BRA to quell concern about the development. About a hundred people gathered in a hot room at 10 Channel Center. Despite the heat, the mood was far lighter than that of the last BRA-sponsored meeting. It became lighter still when the BRA's chief planner, Kairos Shen, announced that Ops-Core had agreed to leave the space after a 45-day adjustment period. The Midway residents assembled met his announcement with applause. Shen returned the favor by thanking them for alerting the BRA to the conflict.

In addition to Bryan Glascock, acting commissioner of the city's Inspectional Services Department, and politicians including Ayanna Pressley, Shen introduced Ops-Core founder and letter-writer David Rogers's wife, Viktoria Rogers, who said she was speaking on behalf of her husband. Viktoria apologized profusely for her husband's absence, crediting it to a business trip, and acknowledged that said absence might look "weak." She then attempted to make amends for her husband's letter, citing "frustration" as its cause. She emphasized that Keene Development still needed to release Ops-Core from its lease. The residents met her remarks with applause.

Shen opened the meeting to questions. Nearly all the residents thanked the BRA and Ops-Core for resolving the matter. One resident asked how they knew they would be safe during the adjustment period.

"If you smell something, say something," Glascock answered. In addition to other safety considerations, Inspectional Services will orchestrate random drop-ins and provide Midway studios with a resident toxicologist. Further, as reported in the Globe, the BRA will form a committee of Midway Studios residents to help determine the use of the space that Ops-Core is soon to vacate. After a brief discussion of future plans, Shen adjourned the meeting an hour after it started.

While smiling artists poured out of the room, I overheard a tense discussion between Taylor and an attorney representing Gentex.

"We're not moving unless this is resolved," the attorney said. "My guys are not paying two rents."

"We're not going to be collecting no rents," Taylor replied.  

As Taylor hustled out the door, I approached the attorney, told him I had overheard his conversation, and asked his name and role. "Why, are you a reporter?" he asked. I confirmed I was with the Phoenix. "I'm the lawyer representing Gentex. It's Dan-"

A Gentex representative approached, quickly. Attorney Dan identified me as a reporter. The woman asked if I was responsible for the Phoenix's earlier coverage. When I said I was, she glowered at me.

"Those posts were so slanted, I'm not sure that we have anything to say to you. Come on, let's go," she said, pulling the attorney away.

Will Keen Development let Ops-Core out of its lease? Will it allow those living at Midway Studios to work towards someday owning their own apartments? Stay tuned.

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