Plans to build a working and living community for artists in Dearborn are progressing now that the city has set a sales price for the city hall building that will be renovated by the nonprofit ArtSpace.

Artspace has built 32 communities around the country, all of them in cities that have seen economic potential in the creative culture and provided artists places to live, work and sell their works as well as perform.

Dearborn Mayor Jack O’Reilly made the announcement that Artspace is likely to pay $1.65 million for the 1922 Georgian revival style city hall that has become too costly and wasteful for the city to keep.

City hall employees will move into a smaller, more energy-efficient city building that’s more centrally located while ArtspaceDearborn, in cooperation with the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority, renovates the old city hall into the City Hall Artists Lofts at 13615 Michigan Ave. Plans call for 40-plus affordable, live/work spaces for artists, art studios and spaces for arts organizations and creative businesses to operate on the east side of the city. East Dearborn, unlike West Dearborn with its influence of Ford Motor Company and the Henry Ford museum, is a more eclectic mix of businesses and has a deep rooted Middle Eastern community. The Arab American National Museum, believed to be the first and only museum devoted to Middle Eastern art and culture, is in East Dearborn.

The renovation could cost about $13.5 million, according to Artspace, and it acts as an arts and culture magnet that could attract new residents and visitors to the city.

Artspace’s Mission is to create, foster, and preserve affordable space for artists and arts organizations. Its motto: Bulding Better Communities Through the Arts.

The next step in the process is to apply for low-income housing credits from the state of Michigan, Artspace’s Wendy Holmes says. Without those credits a nonprofit Artspace project can’t happen. Tax credits typically cover 60-65 percent of the construction cost, the credits being based on the project’s ability to provide affordable housing and to act as an economic stimulant. An architect is engaged and drawing up renderings of how an Artspace Dearborn would be laid out and function, she says.

A decision on whether to grant the tax credits is due in August. If approved, construction would start in 2014, Holmes says. If denied, Artspace applies again, and if approved then, construction would begin in 2015, she says.

One thing for certain is that the development would fill a whole city block on Michigan Avenue, where there are two matching City Hall buildings and another building in between. Housing will go into the City Hall building facing Michigan Avenue and in the one just like it around the corner. A third building between them will most likely have studio space,

“It would be a whole campus of arts activity, says Holmes, who has seen the economic spark that comes from providing a gathering spot for the creative community. In Seattle, for example, ArtSpace is about to start construction on its fourth space, this one connected to transit-oriented development, she says.

Along with lofts for living, places for creating or promoting all genres of arts, there would be space for art-related businesses.

“The concept is that space is used by to gather organizations with art interests. It could be a theater company,” Holmes says. “There could be a fabrication area for, say, a company that fabricates different forms of art. This is
where creative people can come together in one place.”

Writer: Kim North Shine
Source: Teri Deaver and Wendy Holmes, Artspace