In Ybor City, Artspace will let artists live where they make a living

In a matter of months, a community of creatives has quickly bloomed at the historic Kress Building along East Seventh Avenue in Ybor City. The emergence of the Kress, which is home to artists’ studios, galleries, performance spaces and even a micro-cinema, is further proof that this brick-lined district known for its rich history, cigars and nightlife is evolving into a hub of the Tampa art scene.

But many artists who ply their craft in Ybor cannot afford to live where they make their living. Tampa’s development boom, while boosting the local economy, has only exacerbated that affordability challenge. Now, a solution three years in the works is one significant step closer to reality.

Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that develops live-work affordable housing projects for artists that include studio and gallery space, has selected a tract of land in the heart of Ybor for its long-sought expansion into Tampa. Ybor City developer Darryl Shaw, who owns the Kress Building and is behind plans for the mixed-use Gas Worx and Ybor Harbor redevelopment projects, has donated a 23,000-square-foot site at 1610 East Third Avenue for the project. Artspace’s plan for the property is a four-story building with 75 apartments above ground-floor space for galleries and arts organizations. Artists making 30 to 60 percent of the area median income will be eligible to live there. Construction is expected to start in 2025.

The Tampa Arts Alliance and Tempus Projects, two nonprofit arts organizations that have been driving forces in the community effort to bring an Artspace to Tampa, announced the site selection alongside Artspace representatives during a June 21st event at the Kress Building.

“I don’t feel like I’ve ever been to a community that is so ready and so obvious for affordable housing for artists,”  Artspace Senior Vice President of National Advancement Kathleen Kvern says at the event. “It’s economic development. It’s creative industries. It is aligned with everything else you guys have going on.”

Bringing Artspace to Tampa

Artspace formed in 1979 on a community mission to advocate to provide space for artists to live and work. In the late 1980s, the organization shifted focus from advocacy to the actual development of affordable housing and creative spaces for artists. The first three projects opened in the early 1990s. 

Today, Artspace has developed 58 projects in 23 states, Washington D.C. and one tribal nation through a mix of new construction and adaptive reuse of historic properties, says Artspace Senior Vice President, Properties Greg Handberg. The journey to bring an Artspace to Tampa started in 2020 when board member and part-time Tampa resident Peter Lefferts read a magazine article about the art collection owned by Mayor Jane Castor and her partner Ana Cruz. Tampa Arts Alliance Chair Neil Gobioff says Lefferts decided the city and its administration were supportive of the arts and ready for an Artspace.

Since then, Artspace has attracted community partners, conducted a market survey to measure the community support for the project and proceeded with the first phase of pre-development with $150,000 raised by the Tampa Arts Alliance. Looking ahead, organizations like the Tampa Arts Alliance are working to raise another $600,000 in contributions by December, an amount that includes a $50,000 matching grant from Hillsborough County, to see through the pre-development process.

The estimated capital costs of the Artspace Tampa project are $27 million. The plan is to fund the development and construction through private financing, government programs and tax credits for affordable housing and a future fundraising campaign aimed at raising $5.5 million in donations.  

Building on the momentum

During the June 21st event at the Kress Building, Kvern, with Artspace, makes mention of the way the Kress filled with artists, arts organizations and events within a matter of months. She says she expects the same appetite and demand for Artspace.

Currently, about a dozen artists and arts organizations have public galleries on the Kress’ second floor, says Tempus Projects founder and Director Tracy Midulla, who has an unofficial leadership role at the Kress. There’s a popular micro-cinema on the second floor as well as event space for small music and dance performances, artist talks and book releases. The third floor has 28 artist studios and a black box theater for Tampa Fringe. The Florida Museum of Photographic Arts will soon move into first-floor gallery space. A restaurant is also planned at street level, Midulla says. Tempus Projects is also bringing in its first artist in residence since moving into its new home. Multi-disciplinary artist Ryann Slauson, who grew up in Tampa, will have a two-week mini-residency at the Kress.

The artists, art organizations and ownership of the Kress are now in the process of forming a nonprofit organization, the Kress Contemporary, that will be able to raise funds for building improvements, expansion and preservation as well as art-related projects at the Kress and in other areas of Ybor City. 

Combined, the continued flow of artists, exhibits, events and performances through the Kress will continue to build up the arts in Ybor as the Artspace project moves ahead separately. 

For more information, go to Artspace Tampa.
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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.