Utica working to build a rent-controlled housing development for artists

Nov 27, 2017

Utica architect Bob Heins has been working to bring Artspace to his city for the last three years. The nonprofit developer has built 50 of these income-based lofts in cities across the country, including three in New York state.

Each has studio space for its tenants, ranging from painters to musicians to writers and communal space for local arts groups to rent. Heins says the project could become the beating heart of an arts district in downtown Utica.

"When you get a group of artists together there’s a kinetic energy that inspires them to higher and better work, to a way of life that really becomes community," Heins said. 

Michelle Truett with the Utica Artspace project says a recent survey indicates a lot of interest in it from local artists in the region, many of whom currently hold jobs outside of their profession.

"Through the numbers, you can tell that the artists have a day job," Truett said. "They’re waitressing, they’re working in healthcare, they’re doing whatever and doing the art on the side. So this affordable live-work space allows them to have a small rent and could be the difference between them struggling and working two jobs and being able to dive in and have a full time career as an artist."

Artspace funds their buildings largely with federal tax credit programs. Wendy Holmes, the company's senior vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships, says Utica is a good candidate for the next Artspace development. 

"Utica has a special tenacity and passion about making their community a really great place to live and I think that the arts are a piece of what will make and are making Utica a great place," Holmes said.

Holmes says the city could also benefit from the relationship as well. 

"In a community like Utica where they are pulling themselves up by the bootstraps and reinventing themselves, and trying to remain vital in new economy where industry is no longer dominating the landscape there, the creative sector often becomes even more important as a way to distinguish themselves as a community, encourage tourism, encourage young people to stay and become a more vibrant place to live and work," Holmes said. 

The Utica project is currently in the predevelopment stage. Those involved say if they are able to raise enough money, it could open by 2021.