GETTING CREATIVE: Aurora looks at how to lure artists to fledgling arts district

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Michael J. Keyes, left, and Red Delicious Press founder Elaine Scheffler, right, examine a test print. Keyes points to sections of his print where the press did not have enough pressure. Photo by Ali C. M. Watkins/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | A pair of Aurora city council members last week agreed to continue talks regarding how the city can lure artists to the Original Aurora neighborhood off of East Colfax Avenue.

Members of the city’s Housing, Neighborhood Services and Redevelopment Policy Committee on Oct. 23 were briefed on the results of a lengthy market study that polled Coloradans from across the state on whether they’d like to live, work or create in the Aurora Cultural Arts District.

The study, compiled via an online survey available for several months earlier this year, found that residents are most interested in adding more shared creative spaces for artists in the area in the form of shared studios, galleries, classrooms and computer labs.

Of the 457 people surveyed, 86 percent said they would be interested in pursuing some type of space in the arts district, from housing to private studios to shared performance space.

The consultant who administered the survey, non-profit developer Artspace, suggested pitching a mixed-use project to potential developers.

“Based on the findings, a mixed-use project concept would be appropriate to consider, as would a small studio/work-only project or a shared creative makerspace,” Artspace staff wrote in their final report.

Suggestions for such a project included 40 to 60 affordable housing units, as many as 21 private studios to be rented for between $150 and $350 per month, and shared collaborative space with gallery areas, a computer lab and up to three general purpose studios.

The studio rates are generally in-line with what local artists are already paying, according to Satya Wimbish, executive director of the ACAD.

“At ACAD on Dallas Street right now our rates are actually around that, they’re generally about $150 to $180 for the smaller spaces and about $250 for the larger ones,” she said. “So that actually coincides with what we’re renting at right now.”

Overall affordability was a major factor for survey takers who said they were interested in live/work housing in the city. About three quarters of respondents in that group said they make less than 80 percent of the median income for a four-person household in Adams County. That number is currently about $93,000, according to Artspace and federal calculations.

About 25 percent of the nearly 300 people who said they were interested in living and working in the area said they make less than 30 percent of that annual median, which could net them one-bedroom accommodation for as little as $522 a month, per federal guidelines.

“The interested respondent group is clearly in need of affordable housing for those at or below 60 percent of area median income,” consultants wrote.

While there are no immediate plans to pursue any of the options outlined in the Artspace report, the city is constantly assessing new projects in the area, whether they be public, private or a mixture of the two, according to Phil Nachbar, development project manager for the city.

“Any development would probably be in the form of some type of physical improvement where art space could be provided,” Nachbar said. “We don’t know whether that would be in a private building, or a private building in conjunction with the city, or a public building. It could be any of those.”

The Artspace survey results come about two years after the city paid the Minnesota-based consultant and developer nearly $25,000 for a feasibility study in the same corridor. The results of that study were shelved until last September, when the local arts district received an $18,000 grant from the Gates Family Foundation to pursue the follow-up market survey. The city pitched in an additional $15,000 to conduct the query.

“The key thing is being able to quantify how much and what kinds of spaces are needed,” Teri Deaver, vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships at Artspace said of the study results. “ … And being able to share that with building owners in your community, with other developers, with arts organizations that might be able to take that information and translate that into new space.”

The city will now be tasked with parsing through the Artspace data and determining how, if or when new artist studios or housing could take shape.

“We’ll look at the survey and identify some options going forward,” Nachbar said. “We will identify some ways in which we can address artist spaces with our existing venues and maybe with new development as it occurs.”

Indeed, venues for potential projects could run the gamut, according to Artspace staffers.

“Private studios and shared creative spaces can be offered in underutilized buildings; existing programs can be expanded to offer new space types; developers can introduce private studio and/or live/workspaces into existing project concepts; or entirely new arts facility models can be developed,” consultants wrote.

Founded in 1979, Artspace has invested in dozens of projects across the country, including the recently overhauled Loveland Feed and Grain Building, a new property intended to lure artists to Ridgway and a similar project in Trinidad.

There are no current plans for Artspace to pursue such a project in Aurora, according to Nachbar.

Crystal Murillo, who serves as chairwoman of the Neighborhood Services Committee and presides over the council ward in which the local arts district sits, said she remains wary of ousting current residents in favor of new development.

“I definitely support the continued conversation,” she said. “As much as, like, I want to be full steam ahead on some of these … projects, there’s still the lingering concern of how do we define and quantify what gentrification means?”

There are not immediate plans to forward the survey results to the full council for further
discussion.