Buildings as art…

Artist Renters & Developers Changing the Urban Landscape

Angela Sucich |Zillow Blog | April 2, 2013 | link

The Rainier Brewery in Seattle is now home to artists looking for industrial space to live and work. Source: Seattle PI

The Rainier Brewery in Seattle is now home to artists looking for industrial space to live and work. Source: Seattle PI

Offering artist housing can help cities cultivate an arts community and spur urban renewal, but retaining creative-sector residents means finding suitable space and keeping rents affordable. While many subsidized artist residency programs exist across the country, these typically last for only a few months. Here’s what some renters and developers are willing to do to find a permanent place for creativity and culture in the urban landscape.

Rentals no one else wants

Historically, artists have been rental market pioneers, willing to move into underused industrial areas in exchange for low rent and room to produce their art. These revitalized areas often attract non-artist renters who compete for space and drive up rents, pricing artists out of the rental market they helped create.

Scott Dodson is one artist who believes the benefits of live-work spaces outweigh the gentrification risks. He rents a 1,300-square-foot artist loft in Seattle, with 14-foot ceilings, ample space for his photography studio and a breathtaking cityscape view. His rent falls significantly below the Seattle metro area’s median rent list price. And when guests visit, consider them impressed: Dodson’s digs look a lot like the former home of Rainier Brewing Co. — at least from the outside.

Inside is an artist’s dream loft; six years ago it was full of abandoned brewery equipment and covered in graffiti. After a century of beer manufacturing, the iconic brewery closed in 1999 and was purchased four years later by Rainier Commons LLC with the help of tenant leases like the one held by Dodson’s artist co-op, Sabaki.

Creative renovation

Source: Seattle Globe Blog

Source: Seattle Globe Blog

“Developers stripped everything out and left a shell,” Dodson said of the construction that took place from 2005-2007. Part of Sabaki’s lease paid for the installation of demising walls and gas lines for furnaces and hot water. Then the tenants’ work began: making their units livable. If someone wanted a gas stove, for example, they had to pay for the plumbing and permits. Renters’ time, money and sweat equity went into home improvements that will become a de facto “gift” to future renters in 10 years when Sabaki’s long-term lease is up.

“There’s a certain mystique around living in these industrial spaces, but actually they can be kind of hard,” Dodson said. “There are a lot of niceties built into normal homes that just aren’t there. Like cupboards. Or light switches where they need to be.”

But some like the trade-offs. Because Dodson’s floors are concrete, he could do light welding if he was so inclined. And his downstairs neighbors — painters — “can spill turpentine on the floor, and there’s no damage deposit.”

The SoDo district, where the Old Rainier Brewery complex is located, is a light industrial zone with an exception allowing for artists’ dwellings. While calling it the “next big neighborhood” may be premature, the area has begun to attract an eclectic community. The mixed-use complex itself includes artist co-ops, a capoeira school, a lighting production company, a recording studio and Tully’s Coffee headquarters.

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