BRINGING ARTISTS TO THE ART DISTRICT

South Main ArtSpace Lofts mock-up

South Main ArtSpace Lofts mock-up

We’ve all heard the term “starving artist,” and a few of us have been such – even if “starving” was a bit of a dramatic stretch, and “artist” was, well, more in our romantic wannabes than in reality. In any case, the starving artist grapevine, or more to the point, the “working artist grapevine,” is abuzz with the news that the South Main Artspace Lofts are coming. The location will be on St. Paul Avenue between South Main and South Second Street. And whether you consider this part of Downtown or merely “Adjacent Downtown,” you will be pleased to know this project is expected to benefit local working artists, and the community, in a number of ways.

As the website states, “In partnership with the City of Memphis and the Hyde Family Foundations, Artspace will transform a historic three-story warehouse and an adjacent parking lot into a mixed-use arts facility with 58 affordable live/work units for artists and their families, community/gallery space and an outdoor arts garden. A permanent population of artists in South Main will energize and stimulate the entire Arts District, giving it a stronger personality than ever before.”

Current lot and future location of the lofts

Current lot and future location of the lofts

The Artspace project on St. Paul Avenue, slated for completion in 2017, is just one in a series of Artspace ventures in operation or development in more than 20 states across the nation. In all, these projects represent nearly 2,000 live/work units and millions of square feet of non-residential community and commercial space.

According to Kathleen Kvern, senior director of national advancement for Artspace, at the $17.3 million project on St. Paul, “All the units are live/work, meaning that they are about 150 to 200 square feet larger than most units of the same bedroom number in the market. The floor plans are intentionally open to provide flexible use of the space. The units have high ceilings and large windows to allow for increased air circulation and natural light; they also are designed with durable surfaces to stand up to different artistic materials and mediums.”

Kvern added that, if an artist doesn't need studio space within his or her unit, he or she can simply arrange the use of the unit to reflect that. There will also be additional work studio space for shared tenant use in the basement; additional private leasable studio space will also be available on the first floor.

The unit breakdown for the St. Paul location is four studios, averaging 603 square feet; 41 one-bedroom units, averaging 873 square feet; 11 two-bedroom units, averaging 1,223 square feet; and two three-bedroom units, averaging 1,745 square feet. At this time, rents are projected to range from $551 to $803, depending on unit size. 

Kvern said that the criteria for qualifying as an “artist” is someone who is able to show a body of work and/or discuss their art as it relates to the broader community.

In regard to the jobs the project will create, Kvern said there will be at least two permanent positions – one property manager and one maintenance/janitorial person. But she added, “We consider the artists who live/work in the residential portion of the building to be entrepreneurs, and so the number of jobs those artists retain as the result of affordable space is critical. Artspace has commissioned third-party research that has shown our spaces enable artists to make more revenue from their art as the result of having permanent, affordable live/work space.”

She said, “The improvement/investment that we are making by renovating the building also impacts the public infrastructure – such as bayou replacement and repair, sidewalks, parking, and the development of an outdoor public plaza area that will be open to the general public...We see this project aligned with other significant investments in the South Main neighborhood. The important distinction with Artspace projects is the commitment we make to long-term affordable live/work space for the creative sector that helps anchor the neighborhood in the arts.”

She said there will be ample parking at this site, including adding 22 stalls of underground parking to the existing warehouse building. Some of the public improvements include restriping St. Paul Avenue and adding parking spots along St. Paul and down the alley. The parking spaces will be rotated perpendicular to the road to accommodate more spots.

Funding for the project has come from many local and national foundations, organizations and individuals. Also, through an anonymous local Memphis philanthropist, South Main Artspace Lofts received a challenge grant of $500,000. This month Kvern was happy to report that, “We've met the challenge grant of $500K through amazing local (and some national funder) support!”

She emphasized that, “All Artspace projects generate sufficient revenue from affordable rents and leases to cover their basic operating costs; as a result, our fundraising support is needed for the capital portion of the project, not ongoing operational support. Our projects will remain affordable and on mission in perpetuity.”

For more information visit ArtspaceLofts.