Architects creating working studio, living, retail space

There is an old, old story from India about three blind men touching an elephant and declaring what the object was – from their perspective.

It might be a case in point in the study of what an artist will tell you is called studio space. Of course it exists, but what is it? Even without definition, there’s more of it coming down the pike, and fairly soon.

It’s all in answer again to the unseen – this time the perhaps invisible demand of an art community that’s scattered and iconoclastic, defying category themselves.

But art as an emerging business prevails in the voices of several local development groups.

Over in Manitou Springs, a long-standing arts area from the beginning of Indian trade, architect Chuck Englund and his two partners, Chuck Rushmer and Bill Greer, are creating working studio space, along with retail and living space. Located on 31,000 sq. ft. of C6 land that touches both Canon Avenue and Manitou Boulevard in downtown Manitou Springs, The Manitou Lofts & Shops at Fountain Creek, 115 Canon Ave., will hold seven lofts altogether, living and studio space, nine retail shops, one concession stand, and Englund’s architectural offices.

The foundation of the project is the former General Motors High Altitude Testing facility – a massive, tidy garage that will become the garage for top-floor living space, with retail shops at ground level. Englund and his partners started 18 months ago dealing with floodplain issues. Two new living/studio units, constructed separately on the land, also incorporate lower level garages, keeping the people/space above flood potential. A third building begins construction in about 60 days, following the project’s approval with the city last month.

“The setting is so unique, so incredibly unique, an ideal setting for a mixed-used limited edition. Loft owners want to park the car and throw away the keys,” according to Englund, who will oversee the construction as well as design. “It’s a very emotional project for me because it is so unique. A realtor showed it to me on a Thursday and I had it all designed by the next Monday. I went into a design zone. I couldn’t put it down.”

The street level retail shops (1,000 sq. ft.) will lease for $15 per square foot, triple net. A three-bedroom loft above the shops, including vaulted space and massive windows to the south, costs about $400,000. The two separate new units, 1,800 sq. ft. on three levels with a roof-top terrace, will be priced slightly under at $396,000. The deal also included turning over land surrounding the existing but closed Shoshone spring house on Manitou Boulevard to accent with gardens and create pedestrian space, plus reactivate the mineral spring. A “creek walk” allows public access from the public parking on Canon Avenue around the shops. A promenade along the creek will be lit by 75-year-old street lamps recently purchased at auction from The Broadmoor Hotel. The housing portion of the project includes an electronic gate.

Lots of people have expressed interest in all parts of the project, Englund says. When two-thirds of the units are sold or pre-leased, construction will begin on the former GM structure. His office is creating final plans and construction drawings now to be in a position to take financial commitments from buyers.

A few blocks from downtown Colorado Springs, commercial brokers vaunt rehabbed high-ceiling space for lease. But getting a commercial leasing agent to envision more than office space can leave some art-types frustrated. Kim Murphy, broker associate at Olive Real Estate Group Inc., specializes in downtown office space but knows what artists seek. Funky space, artsy space is what Murphy describes, and there’s a variety of options. Second-floor office space above the former Perkins-Shearer building is available for about $12 per sq ft. gross for 500 sq. ft. – perfect for an architectural studio. For tougher demands, such as natural light for painting or ventilation for sculpting, it depends on tenant finish and a willing landlord, she explains.

But a pent-up demand for space to create and to sell has led backers of DADA, the nonprofit Depot Arts District Association, to final planning for adaptive re-use and new construction on the north end of Confluence Park. Elaine Bean, a member of the DADA board of directors, is an artist with leased studio space in an existing downtown warehouse.

“There’s always a demand for affordable studio space. We don’t know who exactly they (the artists) are – right now some of them are working in their garages or basements or kitchens, but when we put affordable living space and also have studio space, we know there is a demand,” she says. “What I’ve been holding a candle out for is the affordable end of it.”

DADA is using a team of architects lead by Michael Collins with Ken Hoagland, Community Capital Corp., creating the project’s pro forma. The project has two parts – construction of a six- or seven-story residential building with permanently affordable housing topped by units for sale, and underneath retail spaces for small vendors. A lit tower with marquee, a roof-top patio, closeable shutters and exterior coloring will give it personality.

The other half of the project is a massive rehabilitation of the city’s former 37,000-square-foot gas department building into a 50,400-square-foot module of studio spaces, a certified kitchen, cafe, retail vendor space, and lots of allowance for a year-round farmers’ market, able to retail to the public and wholesale to restaurants. The charm will be European in approach, creating space for outdoor presentations on a piazza. Rent for the studio space could be as low as $8 per sq. ft., something even Martha Stewart in her garage days could afford.