Every week we receive phone calls from those seeking our help in bringing an Artspace model project to their city or town. In response we have advised on the conversion of hard-to-develop historic buildings and brownfield sites, the reuse of decommissioned schools, and the creation of new construction projects. But it’s not always about getting that one affordable artist live/work project. Sometimes it’s bigger. Sometimes it’s about strategies, tools and policies necessary to steer local development and property owners toward serving the creative sector.
Our work in Tacoma, Washington is a great example of how a city with dedicated staff, a growing and involved arts community, and interested local developers can, with just a little help, take a big leap forward.
Tacoma is just 30 miles south of Seattle and attracting artists drawn to its lower rents, active arts scene, prideful gritty reputation and sense of opportunity. It is also a city where, despite an abundance of vacant and underutilized space and a successful Spaceworks Tacoma program, artists complained to us that finding spaces in which to live, work, and launch new businesses was increasingly difficult. Developers and property owners, it seemed, were disconnected from the opportunity to serve this growing sector.
We were invited by the City of Tacoma and Arts Administrator Amy McBride to help “unstick” the situation by offering a new perspective alongside data that would help nudge the community over what had become a stalemate, into a plan of action. Over the course of a year, we conducted workshops with developers and artists, implemented a survey of artists’ space needs, offered supportive policies for consideration, and provided technical assistance to the city and developers seeking answers to questions about funding, leasing, and successful strategies for developing affordable creative space projects of all types and sizes.
Some highlights of our 2014/2015 work included:
- Sharing unique, creative space project model case studies with local developers
- Strategizing with developers about funding small, affordable, infill projects
- Providing resources for artists negotiating and leasing space from the private market
- Confirming real obstacles faced by developers seeking to rehab their buildings
- Offering a list of creative space development incentives, tools, policies and strategies to help foster more space opportunities for creatives
- Collecting data requested by the development community including: what spaces artists need, what they can pay, and gauging interest in concepts they proposed
- Providing feedback on specific project opportunities that the city hoped to champion
Since our work concluded, the city has seen some great progress. Armed with data we provided about the arts community’s needs, the city is seeing a large increase in adaptive reuse projects. Among those is The Station Artist Lofts, a planned 14 unit live/work project (with six affordable spaces) at the site of an old police substation in Tacoma’s diverse Hilltop neighborhood.
The City has continued to share information gathered in the artist space needs survey with the public through functions like a well-attended 2016 mixer on the topic of Adaptive Re-use and Creative Space, where six new live/work and work/live, arts venue and and other adaptive reuse projects were unveiled. And we have been contacted by private developers emboldened by the market survey results, who are hoping to advance new project ideas.
When a city seeks to change the status quo, there is no singular solution. It takes a team of dedicated civic and public sector leaders, a willing community and sometimes an outside perspective to drive everything forward. We are thrilled that our friends in Tacoma trusted us to be a part of realizing their vision for new, locally developed creative spaces.