ART FOR ART’S SAKE? Aurora to examine whether arts district can create success

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AURORA | Aurora’s artistic experiment on East Colfax Avenue will be thrust under the microscope early next month in an effort to see if the city’s cultural arts district can sustain future development.

Artspace, a Minneapolis-based real estate consultant and occasional developer of repurposed arts venues, will be meeting with various groups across the Aurora Cultural Arts District March 1 and 2 to gauge the area’s potential for becoming a viable live/work hub for artists.

The meetings — only one of which will be open to the public — are the upshot of about 18 months of discussions between the city and Artspace, which operates as a nonprofit.

City officials at the end of last year finalized the contract with Artspace, which calls for an assessment of the physical buildings in the district, community support and existing arts presence. The final price was $24,950, according to city spokeswoman Julie Patterson.

The public meeting with Artspace employees will be held March 1 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Vintage Theatre, 1468 Dayton St.

Following the March meetings, Artspace will take about two months to compile a report on the vitality of the ACAD and make a recommendation to the city on how to move forward.

If Artspace makes a favorable recommendation, the organization could conduct a full market survey of the ACAD under a new contract with the city, according to Shannon Joern, senior director of national advancement for Artspace.

“That process would allow us to really more deeply quantify and … really get an understanding for the type of space in demand in the area,” Joern said.

Patterson clarified that under the current contract, the city is not obligated to continue working with the Minnesota firm.

“The city has the option to retain the services of Artspace, at additional cost, to conduct a thorough market study to more specifically identify artist prospects for a project,” Patterson wrote in an email. “The city is not obligated to proceed with the market study or a development project upon completion of the initial assessment.”

Founded in 1979, Artspace has developed about 45 projects around the country, according to Joern. She said the organization is growing in Colorado, with projects in municipalities across the state, including Denver, Lakewood, Loveland, Fort Collins, Trinidad, Ridgway and Elizabeth.

Wendy Holmes, senior vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships for Artspace, said the organization ends up fully developing about one-third of the projects it analyzes. One local example is the Loveland Feed & Grain building, which Artspace is turning into an artistic live/work space.

Bob Hagedorn, former president of the ACAD board of directors and longtime north Aurora advocate, said the consulting process could help shine a light on an area of the city that has been slow to blossom.

“I think it’s going to be a great opportunity to hear what other people’s ideas are for the economic redevelopment of north aurora,” he said.

Hagedorn added that a focus of the area has always been to incorporate the surrounding neighborhoods in its arts-centric programming.

“We’re not going to create some kind of a little island in the middle of north Aurora,” Hagedorn said. “Whatever the vision may be, it will involve and incorporate our neighborhood and try to engage the residents.”

Tracy Weil, managing director of the ACAD, said he’s looking forward to once again working with Artspace. Weil, who helped found the River North Art District in Denver, has worked with Artspace through the firm’s predevelopment process in RiNo, and he’s kept an eye on how predevelopment has been financed in other nearby municipalities.

He said he’s keen on the possibility of activating some of the ACAD’s currently dormant locales, like the Friends Building or any of the nearby motels.

“It’s very exciting,” Weil said. “I like thinking outside of the box, which I think (Artspace) likes to do, too.”

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