Creating spaces that serve for both living and working isn’t a new idea. Think back to the 19th Century when rural farm families lived in houses attached to barns. But the concept didn’t really take off in urban areas until the 1970s when builders of urban loft apartments encouraged buyers facing expensive property and high-interest rates to rethink shared spaces.
For the last 10-15 years, cities intent on capitalizing on artists as both an under-appreciated economic engine and as influencers of what makes a neighborhood cool and thus investable, have been talking about opportunities to create live-work spaces for artists and other creatives. With that concept in mind, Former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio once tried relocating West Tampa bungalows pushed out by the expansion of Interstate 275 to Ybor City to create an artists’ enclave.
Today, smart local thought leaders looking to ensure the survivability of artists and the lifestyle they bring to urban communities are eyeing success in other cities where an organization called Artspace has been ratcheting up the live-work spaces for artists over the last decade.
Building on success
Artspace, a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization whose goal is to create affordable spaces for artists and creative businesses that could include studio spaces, apartments, rehearsal halls, galleries, meeting spaces, and more -- all housed in one building -- is trying to do just that. And they have all over the country with over 50 Artspace sites that have proved to be successful. None has failed.
“Artspace has very skilled financial technicians experienced in affordable housing and tax credits to put together a package that is quite viable. It’s structured financially in terms of zoning so it’s affordable for the long-term,’’ says Peter Lefferts, Co-Chair of the Artspace Tampa Initiative Steering Committee, Founder of Community Housing Capital, and a former financial services executive and start-up specialist with Citicorp and American Express. “In Ybor City, one of the repeated tales is that ‘I was an artist here, the neighborhood got discovered, it was developed, and I got priced out.’ This is a very common story, but Artspace will be an affordable facility for artists for decades.”
The Artspace Tampa Initiative was created by a group of local philanthropists, artists, art lovers, and community activists to help bring the Artspace dream to Tampa. Last May, an initial feasibility study found significant local support for an Artspace arts hub. Tempus Projects in the Seminole Heights neighborhood of Tampa stepped in as Artspace’s fiscal agent, allowing for financial contributions for the initial stages. The Stage 1 feasibility study cost $30,000, of which the local Gobioff Foundation paid half. The findings of this study showed that -- with an emphatic yes -- Tampa really wants a centralized arts center that also has affordable housing and can support this project.
The next step after the feasibility study is Stage 2: an Arts Market Study, which is hosted as a partnership between Artspace Projects, Artspace Tampa Initiative, and Tempus Projects with support from the Gobioff Foundation and private donors. Getting more in-depth, this step is posed as a survey to figure out exact needs for Tampa artists.
“What do you need in a facility? Oversized double doors? Clay sink traps? Freight elevators? Not all artists need living space but just want studio space. Some need neither, but want a quiet dedicated space for reading, writing, or getting feedback other than a library or café. Dancers and musicians need practice space,” says Tracy Midulla, Board Chair and Programming Director of Tempus Projects as well as the Art Manager of the Artspace Tampa Initiative Steering Committee. “This is where we find out what kind of building would best serve Tampa so it does become a hub in the community. I think this will be a game-changer for Tampa as an arts district.”
With the online survey, they hope to get approximately 1,000 people from diverse demographics to respond to find out: Where would be a good place to build this? How much square footage should it be? What should be the distribution of space? What is considered affordable housing in Tampa? Their aim is to reach out to people in the arts industry at-large (think gallerists, teachers, art administrators, makers, etc.). What are the needs for theatre, dance, music, etc., and for retail shops for art-friendly businesses like craft coffee or craft beer, or crafters like jewelry-makers or woodworkers?
The survey kicked off with a virtual launch on March 25th and will be open through May 6 for responses on the ArtspaceTampaSurvey website
What comes next?
Once the survey results are evaluated, Tampa can move on to Stage 3: predevelopment. This can prove to be the biggest hurdle, as this is the stage that put Artspace Sarasota at a standstill back in 2014: Who is willing to donate land and money to make this happen? As of now, 5 locations have been repeatedly brought up in the Artspace conversation: Ybor City, Seminole Heights, West Tampa, East Tampa, and Downtown.
“Predevelopment is the biggest challenge here. It’s a phase where we identify where artists and creatives want their preferred space to be. It gives us an idea of top choices, but it comes down to the question of someone donating land. If someone donates, that’s less money we need to raise. Maybe the city or county will contribute land, we just don’t know what’s available that aligns with their priorities as well. The city is well aware of what we’re doing so we’re hoping they’ll step in at the right time to make this happen,” says Neil Gobioff of the Gobioff Foundation and Artspace Tampa Initiate Core Group Chair.
Many might wonder if the downtown Kress Building or the old Santaella Cigar Factory in West Tampa might be top contenders for an Artspace studio loft since they have been known to retrofit older buildings, but that may never come to be as it takes double the money to renovate historic buildings and the chances of getting those are slim, Midulla says. Though a historic building may be too costly, the Artspace Tampa Initiative leaders are confident that private donors will step up to the plate to make Artspace Tampa happen.
Artistic talent already flocks to Tampa, but Artspace might be what it takes to keep them here.
“There are many benefits to an Artspace building. The biggest thing it will bring is a centralized location for artists to work and collaborate outside of the university setting and outside of the home. There’s no dedicated space like this in Tampa anymore that has a collaborative atmosphere where events and exhibition spaces can happen. That’s the biggest thing and it can radiate outwards, bringing a critical mass of artists to an area,” Gobioff says.
For more information and to take the survey, follow these links: