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Project to provide affordable housing to creative workers in Colorado Springs gains momentum

December 28, 2017 Updated: December 29, 2017 at 6:13 am
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photo - A rainbow hangs over downtown Colorado Springs during a recent evening rainshower Friday, June 19, 2015. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette
A rainbow hangs over downtown Colorado Springs during a recent evening rainshower Friday, June 19, 2015. Photo by Mark Reis, The Gazette 

A local effort to build an affordable place for artists and other creative types to live and work in downtown Colorado Springs is gaining momentum. What's needed now is a location.

The project - which aims to create up to 70 "live/work" apartments for creatives along with additional studio spaces - got a boost this month when the Downtown Development Authority approved up to $750,000 to locate a site for the complex and for some of the design work, said Bob Wolfson, founder of the Colorado Springs Creative Collective and a lead on the project.

The idea of offering an affordable housing opportunity specifically for creative workers came to Wolfson in 2015, he said. Soon after he brought local organizations to the table with Minneapolis-based Artspace, which has developed about 50 similar complexes around the country.

Retaining a creative presence in town is especially difficult with exploding housing prices, Wolfson said. But in reality, displacement and gentrification issues have always been a problem within creative communities.

Typically artists "move into a space, make the neighborhood cool and with that coolness comes more and more people" who boost property values and price the artists out of their own neighborhood, Wolfson said.

But with this complex, Artspace will guarantee consistent pricing for the apartments, Wolfson said.

"This is an opportunity to create a facility downtown that will benefit the downtown in the foreseeable future in a sustainable way," he said.

Because the Downtown Development Authority is providing predevelopment funding, the project must be located within its boundaries, said Sarah Humbargar, vice president of development services. That coincides with where the majority of the city's creatives indicated they would want to live, she said.

"Downtown Colorado Springs certainly is the epicenter for that creative community," Humbargar said.

Only business and property owners within the downtown development area pay the Authority, which is granted taxing rights by the city, said Jill Gaebler, City Council president pro tem who serves on the Authority. So the investment is made only by those in the area.

But the rest of the city will also benefit, said Andy Vick, executive director for the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region.

"When you have a pocket of creative people living and working together, that creates a vitality of energy and that creates an economic impact," Vick said. "It's going to be a catalyst for revitalization."

The growth will also offer more to those who visit Colorado Springs looking for a taste of the local community, Gaebler said. They, in turn, give back to the city.

"Cultural tourists spend more money, they stay longer," Gaebler said.

And the creative-specific apartments should free more affordable units for others around town, Wolfson said.

Often painters, sculptors, musicians, graphic designers, brewers and other creative workers don't earn much money, so they're already living in affordable places, he said. Once the Artspace complex opens the creatives will consolidate there, freeing their current apartments and homes for others.

The city expects to be short about 26,000 affordable housing units in 2019, so 70 apartments might seem like a drop in the bucket, but Wolfson said there could be a multiplier effect.

The hope is that "other developers and private individuals would see the value of creating similar spaces downtown and in the broader area, which would allow for even more people to function as creatives," he said.

That would also go a long way in retaining new college graduates who often want to stay in Colorado Springs but can't afford to live in the area, Wolfson said.

What the Artspace complex might look like remains unknown at this stage, Wolfson said. But more than 700 creatives polled about the project offered their suggestions, which include darkrooms, computer labs and the availability of different types of tools.

For now the search for a site continues. Wolfson said there are a few the group of organizations has in mind, but none of those options are ready to be made public.

Representatives for Artspace could not be reached for comment.

Once a site is chosen, Humbargar said Artspace will seek state and federal tax credits to supplement development costs.

While none of those tax credits are guaranteed, Wolfson said he hopes enough funding will fall into place for the complex to open within four years.

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