Call it a slice of bohemia under the Colorado Avenue bridge. Art studios, a black-box theater, a general store, a restaurant that trains aspiring chefs, a year-round farmers' market. But wait, there's more: Seventy units of mixed-income housing, the lion's share of which will be reserved for low-income tenants.
Sound like a socialist scheme of Boulderesque proportions? Not quite. It's part of a plan for the revitalization of the Confluence Park area, the stretch of southwestern downtown bordered by Bijou and Cimarron north and south and I-25 and the railroad tracks east and west.
The idea for an arts district with affordable studios, residential and retail space is something that's been bandied about by the arts and downtown planning community since the late '80s. However, things seem to be catapulting from theory to practice lickity split, ever since the area arts district association (DADA) purchased the Conejos Service Center building from the city last month.
DADA's seven-member board consists of local artists and members of the business and nonprofit community. Currently, the organization is working to formally close on the Conejos Service Center building, 110 Cimino Drive, where the proposed studios and retail space will be located. DADA aims to take ownership by July and begin work on the new Gasworks arts center soon after.
DADA board member Elaine Bean, who runs the nearby Phototroph Gallery, notes that the impetus for the project is the lack of affordable studio space for local artists. By way of example, she sited the studios recently opened at the nearby Cottonwood Artists School. According to Cottonwood's co-owner Peggy Vicaro, their 34 studios took little time to rent out. Currently there are 25 people on their wait list.
Bean is quick to note that the Gasworks project is not going to become the next LoDo or Santa Fe -- that is, a piece of forsaken urban space reclaimed by artists who are then promptly priced out of the neighborhoods they revitalized.
"Santa Fe, if you go there now and look at the square, there's Eddie Bauer, the Gap. Where did all the local stuff go?" Bean said. "We want to make sure that the artists are here affordably, perpetually."
Variety of sources
Variety of sources
The reason Bean and others claim their project has gotten off the ground is that its funding sources are diverse and not a dollar comes from local taxpayers.
According to project manager Bob Koenig of the Rocky Mountain Community Land Trust, the total price tag for the studio and retail space plus the housing units is just shy of $18 million. Koenig said the project's funding will come a variety of sources, including the proceeds of 16 apartments and penthouses, with the remainder being filled out through foundation grants, bonds and tax credits for low-income housing.
"You never find one source for all your funds," Koenig said. "Multiple sources spreads involvement in the project and spreads the risk."
Beth Kosley is executive director of the Downtown Partnership as well as a DADA board member. She said her organization supports the Gasworks project for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the economic stimulation provided by a viable arts scene.
"One of our major goals is to encourage cultural and arts activities in the downtown area," Kosley said. "The affordable housing is very important." Kosley also believes that a revitalized arts district would provide a natural synergy with the Convention Center proposed for the area around the Trestle building at Colorado and Cimino. "When people are out at conventions they buy art."
Not for loners
This Saturday, DADA will host an informational meeting for artists interested in studio spaces. According to the Gasworks mission statement, studio space will be allotted by a panel of impartial artists. The goal is for the studios to be spaces where the public could meander through the studios.
"The artists who get in there have to be enthusiastic about the mission," Bean said. "If they don't want to have people bothering them while they're working then they're not in the right place."
-- John Dicker
Informational meeting for artists interested in the Gasworks Studios
Saturday, March 27, 1 p.m.
Smokebrush Foundation at the Depot Arts District 218 W. Colorado Ave., under the Colorado Avenue bridge
For more, call 444-1012.