Thursday, September 19, 2002

Loans, incentives lure artists to town

By The Associated Press

        PADUCAH — More artists' lofts and studios could emerge in Lowertown as the city looks to restore one of its oldest and most troubled neighborhoods.

        Officials broke ground this week on three spec buildings, to be completed by spring. The $300,000 building project is Paducah Bank's biggest investment in the city's Artist Relocation Program.

        Additional building is expected from 16 artists who have committed to either renovate homes or build on empty lots, making an investment of $3.8 million.

        About two artists visit Paducah each week and learn about the program, making the goal of 30 to 50 families moving into the community possible, said Mayor Bill Paxton.

        “We found artists that have come to Paducah with the money to do first-class projects,” Mr. Paxton said. “We're bringing in families that have the same values we have here.”

        Paducah Bank offers artists low-interest, fixed-rate loans for 100 percent of the cost of the project, including purchase and rehab.

        The city offered to pay a half percent on each loan and sold artists homes below market value, said City Planning Director Tom Barnett. In some cases, the city gave homes or lots to artists who agreed to improve them, he said. Endeavors ranging from $50,000 to more than $300,000 cost the city an average of $2,000 each, he said.

        Two years ago, Paducah set up the program to recruit artists to live, work and build in Lowertown.

        “Anybody would have told you Lowertown was not a nice place to live,” Mr. Barnett said. “It was a little rougher, there was a little more crime, there were drug sales.”

        Two years after the program started, Lowertown has experienced some revival, officials and residents say.

        “I see people riding their bikes through here now. They didn't used to do that, but now they do,” said Mark Barone, a neighborhood resident who proposed the plan. “Now I see people walking their dogs. That wasn't the case two years ago. The neighborhood has completely changed.”


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