Ellen J. Meany
Two years from now, area artists might have an affordable nonprofit facility where they can work and live. The proposed development is bold, exciting, innovative and...not here.
It's in Stoughton.
As many as 25 artists from all disciplines would be welcome, from performing artists to poets. The model development is a three-way partnership between the city of Stoughton, the Stoughton Chamber of Commerce and the Minneapolis-based Artspace Projects Inc.
"We're excited about it because it's in an older area of Stoughton that's also part of our redevelopment area," says Ed Bieno, executive director of the chamber of commerce. "This would fit very nicely into our redevelopment plans."
It looks good so far. Teri Deaver, Artspace director of consulting and new projects, says, "This existing site met our early criteria for conversion to affordable live and/or work space for artists, as well as non-housing studio and workspace."
The three-story, 75,000-square-foot building on East South Street began life as a tobacco warehouse. Most recently it served as storage for trailers. "It's an old building. It would make a good facility for something like this," says Bieno. "Artspace specializes in refurbishing buildings that are in even worse condition, and making them into very nice-looking live-work facilities."
Artspace Projects was founded in 1979 in Minneapolis. It calls itself "America's leading nonprofit real estate developer for the arts." The organization creates, fosters and preserves affordable space for artists and arts organizations.
Artspace has completed 21 properties. Another 11 are in progress, not counting Stoughton. The organization's 2008 operating budget is more than $8.62 million, and its combined real estate portfolio is valued in excess of $200 million.
Artspace sometimes builds from scratch, but it prefers to take on abandoned or underused historic industrial properties, and it emphasizes "green" construction practices. It has properties in such cities as Buffalo, Fort Lauderdale, Houston and Reno.
In Minneapolis, Artspace made the 1906 Grain Belt brewery bottling house into studios. The city's Hennepin Center for the Arts is an 1888 Masonic Temple. In Manhattan, Gothic Public School 109 in East Harlem, built in 1899, is being redeveloped as housing and studios. In Council Bluffs, Iowa, a former International Harvester warehouse is being remade into lofts and work space.
In Chicago, in 2003, Artspace made living space from a 1906 telephone facility. The Switching Station Artist Lofts took $5.3 million and four years to redevelop.
If the Stoughton redevelopment comes off, it will be jointly owned and operated by Artspace and the municipality. The Stoughton Chamber of Commerce has been serving as facilitator. Funding would come from a mix of private, state and federal sources.
The project is now in its second phase, a survey of state and area artists. The results of the survey, which closed June 27, will be analyzed and reported to Stoughton by Artspace in August.
"This survey tells us more definitively how many artists would be interested in relocating to a project in Stoughton, and what their specific needs and preferences for space are," says Deaver.
The results will inform Artspace's recommendation on how many units to build, what amenities to include, how much to charge for rent, and whether or not the project is feasible.
"Artist participation in this process is vital," says Deaver. "Their input will be a determining factor in whether and how a project moves forward."
The project's first phase began last August, "just to see if the community was suitable for the Artspace project to continue," says Bieno. Stoughton exceeded expectations. "They had two people from the Artspace office come down, and they spent two days with us looking at the community, talking to people. Before they even left town they said go ahead, start on the second phase."
Deaver recalls that the organization was impressed both by the community and its leadership. "There was and continues to be clear desire and enthusiasm on the part of the city and the chamber of commerce for the creation of affordable space for artists," she says. "We also, as we often do, recommended continuing to explore other options as potential alternatives should the priority site be deemed infeasible down the road."
One point in Stoughton's favor? The Capitol City. "The community support, coupled with its proximity to Madison, made it clear to us that Stoughton has the potential to provide a unique and vibrant home for area artists," says Deaver.
After autumn, the third phase will be redevelopment of the property.
Bieno says the economic impact will depend on how much retail space will be incorporated and how tourists respond.
It all sounds so reasonable and perfectly progressive. How can Madison take part?
By getting in line.
"Artspace only works in one community in a state at a time," says Bieno. "If the survey comes through and we don't qualify in their eyes, I know there's one other community waiting in the wings."
For more information about Artspace Projects, visit www.artspaceusa.org.