Sunday, April 27, 2003

Arts-related rehab nationwide trend

Living/working spaces combined

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Tom Nordyke clicked on a slide of the Hennepin Arts Center in Minneapolis.

"This one," he told a crowd of almost 200, "is the real possibility down here."

On April 17, Nordyke shared information and inspiration at City Council's Arts and Culture Committee meeting, held at the planned site of the Art Academy of Cincinnati. From the sixth floor, Over-the-Rhine was laid out below like a map of possibilities.

Nordyke was in Cincinnati as a consultant. Artspace Projects in Minneapolis owns about $75 million in properties and an additional $215 million in properties "in the pipeline," around the United States, all of which will be used as live/work space for artists.

Artists always have been urban pioneers, but in the past 15 years, cities have learned the wisdom of making them welcome with live/work space.

Cincinnati will make a $1 million investment in coming months to help artists and arts-related businesses move into Over-the-Rhine.

Here's a glimpse at what can happen, using Artspace projects, both completed and in process:

• Four buildings planned in the newly created Gateway Arts District in Mount Ranier, Md., a suburb of Washington. The first renovation, now under way, will include live/work spaces to accommodate performances, art shows, child care and special events. Green space will be provided by rooftop gardens.

• Jefferson Davis artist lofts in Houston will renovate a deteriorated hospital into 35 artist live/work units and work with local preservation groups.

• In Bridgeport, Conn., a 1925 department store (vacant since 1981) will become Sterling Market Lofts. It will include gallery space and art-compatible shops.

• Jackson, Mich., targets a six-building industrial complex to be transformed into an arts destination, including a River Arts Walk. The first phase is the Armory Arts Project that will include artist live/work space, rental space for non-profit cultural organizations, community classroom/demonstration /exhibit/performance space and "arts friendly" commercial business.

• A former opera house that survived Galveston, Texas' historic 1900 hurricane went on to be a Woolworth's, a furniture store and a hotel. Now it's reborn as National Hotel Artists Lofts.

• A wedge-shaped, art deco former Hupmobile (old car) dealership in Pittsburgh is now the Spinning Plate Artist Lofts.

Cincinnati has the building stock, Nordyke observed, but there are other issues.

How the loan program is structured is critical, he says. "You can have all the good intentions in the world but the resources have to be accessible."

Nordyke has relatives in West Chester Township, he confesses, and while he's visited them over the last few years, they've never been willing to come downtown.

On the day of his visit, April 17, headlines from three city homicides were still fresh.

"It's a problem," he says. "Yeah."

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