As both downtown advocates and members of the Colorado Springs arts community often point out, the arts are an important component in the continuing revival and renovation of the city’s historic core. But that revival comes with certain costs, including soaring rents for downtown and near-downtown spaces.
Such gentrification tends to displace artists who can no longer afford work or living spaces, thereby depleting the energy, creativity and vitality that makes downtown such an attractive environment.
That’s why the Downtown Partnership joined with the Colorado Springs Creative Collective and Artspace, a national nonprofit based in Minneapolis, to explore the feasibility of creating affordable artist housing and studio spaces in downtown Colorado Springs.
Artspace has experience and credibility. It’s partnered with scores of communities to create and build such projects (including one in Colorado) and is currently engaged in 46 projects in more than 30 American cities.
After several months of studying the issue, Artspace Development released a 60-page report Monday evening to a packed house at the Cottonwood Center for the Arts.
“It was very favorable,” said Claire Swinford, urban engagement manager at the Downtown Partnership.
Artspace based its report on a survey of individual artists and creatives (736 respondents), which convinced the nonprofit that “there is a substantial need for new space serving the creative sector in Colorado Springs.”
Noting that any projects would require buy-in from civic and community leaders, Artspace made specific recommendations and observations:
• Create up to 70 units of affordable artist housing;
• Create up to 50 new affordable private studio/creative work-only spaces in addition to live/work housing;
• Price private studio/creative workspaces up to a maximum of $300 a month with an emphasis on those between $100 and $200 per month. Provide a variety of space sizes within this rental range with an emphasis on those between 200 and 500 square feet;
• Encourage local entrepreneurs, nonprofits and/or creative businesses to address the need identified in this study for short-term or occasional access to shared creative space and specialized equipment through new ventures and expanded programming;
• New space in Colorado Springs would predominantly serve local artists, and those who have left but would return for the opportunity of new affordable space. Investment in new space can be considered an investment in the local creative economy and creative workforce;
• Affordable artist housing could help retain artists who otherwise may consider moving from Colorado Springs;
• New affordable housing would be multi-generational. Artists of all ages have expressed interest; and
• The most preferred shared creative spaces are active spaces that would add vibrancy to a new multi-use facility or street frontage: gallery/exhibition space, classroom/teaching space and a pop-up gallery or similar retail space.
Swinford pointed out that Artspace’s model isn’t like academia.
“I originally thought that it was competitive, sort of like a juried art exhibit,” she said. “Actually, they’re looking for people who are dedicated to their art and community. In one of their projects, there’s a single mom and her 17-year-old, and the 17-year-old is the artist, completely self-taught.”
Artspace describes its model as an “affordable housing financed project that combines public and private funding to ensure long-term, self-sustaining, affordable housing for artists. A primary tool is the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program which drives private equity investment.”
Artspace presenter Teri Beaver said the average tenant stays for seven years.
About 235 respondents expressed interest in moving into work/live spaces. Overwhelming majorities chose downtown or Old Colorado City/Westside as preferred locations.
Fifty-nine percent of interested artists reported gross annual household incomes that fall at or below 60 percent of the area median income for household size, making new market-rate downtown space unaffordable for most. Only 19 of the 235 respondents paid $1,500 or more (excluding utilities) in monthly housing costs.
For its projects, Artspace relies on individuals, private foundations and corporations. Recurrent donors include the Ford and Kresge foundations, which have each made cumulative donations of more than $10 million.
Artspace makes 15 to 20 feasibility visits annually to cities around the country; of these, only two to four lead to projects. According to the company, projects typically take from four to eight years.
The timeline depends on the community. All funding structures are different, and Artspace won’t break ground on any project until it’s “fully supported and fully funded.”
Artspace has completed one project in Loveland and another is underway in Trinidad.
The Artspace Loveland Arts campus opened in 2016, and all of its 30 work/live units are leased. Partners included the city of Loveland and the Downtown Loveland Association. Trinidad Artspace is the demonstration project for Space to Create, a Colorado initiative to create affordable workforce housing and workspace in rural Colorado communities.
Partners and funders include Corazón de Trinidad Creative District, City of Trinidad, Space to Create, Boettcher Foundation, History Colorado, Colorado Creative Industries and the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
“Artspace made its feasibility visit in August 2016, so we’re 14 months into the process,” Swinford said of the project. “We have several sites under consideration — they’ll need about 2 acres. I think this is the right project at the right time, just as our downtown goes into hyperdrive.”