I recently "stumbled" across an interesting organization many of you might be familiar with: Artspace. Artspace is a way to bring the "creative" class to an area through transforming abandoned and/or affordable spaces into art galleries and studios. This idea is all about artists who are willing to venture into an area where no one else will and risk their time and energy by investing into an area that has no other investment. What often happens is with time, the neighborhood appreciates and ultimately, the rent prices go up and force the artist community away. This very concept is happening in the Gordon Arts District. It is called the SoHo Effect.
The Twin Cities-based organization has pioneered what sounds like the ultimate niche idea: It’s a nonprofit real estate developer for artists. In other words, it assures the artist that their rent will not go up because they are the real estate developer. They plan and develop the building / warehouse to accommodate their needs.
Many artists gravitate to old warehouses and other industrial buildings, but their very presence in an industrial neighborhood often acts as a catalyst, setting in motion a process of gentrification that drives rents up and forces the artists out.
This idea of an arts district as a catalyst is similar to a project that i'm working on now in the East Cleveland area (on Kinsman Rd). So the underlying question is....
Would this kind of idea work in Cleveland?
Lets look at this case study example, obtained from an article about Artspace:
"On the edge of downtown St. Paul, Lowertown was long a hub for railroad warehouses. If you wandered into the area 20 years ago, there was sort of a feeling that you fell off a cliff.” Few people lived there and most of the buildings were empty. The Northern Warehouse had been built for the Northern Pacific Railroad. In the ‘80s, the bottom two floors were still occasionally used by arts organizations. But the top four floors were uninhabitable after the roof caved in. When Artspace eyed the property in the late ‘80s, those top floors had been vacant for 20 years.
Artspace converted the building into 52 live/work loft spaces for artists, with complimentary commercial space on the first two floors. The project was financed with a mix of historic and low-income housing credits, private investment and philanthropy grants. As a result, the building’s mortgage is so low that Artspace can charge tenants well below market rate. To qualify to live and work here, artists must make less than 60% of the area median income. Rents range from about $500 to $1,000, depending on income, for spaces as large as 1,600 square feet. When Artspace recently commissioned a study of the area, market rate for a two-bedroom in now-booming Lowertown was $1,300 a month.
“I’m not sure [Springboard] would still be around if we didn’t have this space,” Zabel says. Her organization, which is about to expand, pays $1,100 a month for 2,200 square feet. This is a common refrain throughout the building. “I’d probably be nowhere,” says painter Matthew Rucker, who estimates that he makes 90% of his annual income during the two weekends a year when the Northern Warehouse hosts an art crawl. “I can honestly say that I owe almost all of my current success to living in this building.”
Cleveland is full of warehouses and old industrial buildings. We have a growing arts community in Ohio City and the Detroit Shoreway Neighborhood. We host many Arts Festivals every year and numerous art galleries and studio spaces can be found in Cleveland. However, it is hard to invest into a property unless your business is thriving, especially when you are an artist. That is why we need Artspace to look at Cleveland. Invest in properties where the values are low. I can think of many East side examples (Kinsman rd. is the first thing that comes to my mind) but one thing is for sure: create the space and the hype and the people will follow.
Brandon E. Young