Aurora, consultants, consider next steps in ArtSpace bid on Colfax corridor

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AURORA | Following a full docket of meetings, tours and focus groups across the Aurora Cultural Arts District March 1 and 2, a Minneapolis-based consulting firm tasked with evaluating the vitality of the bohemian East Colfax corridor appears poised to conduct a full-market study of the ACAD in the coming months.

Wendy Holmes, senior vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships at Artspace, intimated at the lone public meeting during Artspace’s recent visit the next phase of the consulting process — which could involve an in-depth look at the housing stock and community appetite for live/work space in the ACAD — could be in the cards for the arts district. The meeting was held March 1 at The Vintage Theatre.

“Based on our findings, we’ll probably recommend that we do a market study to understand really what the demand is for this kind of space in a more sceinfitic way,” Holmes said. “So we understand how many artists and creative people need what kinds of space and what they can afford to pay, what their family sizes are and what artistic pursuits they practice.”

If Artspace does recommend a future market survey, city council would once again have to sign off on the process and price tag. The final city cost for the initial feasibility study, which began last week and will culminate with an in-depth report in five to seven weeks, was $24,950, according to city spokeswoman Julie Patterson.

Artspace offers two tiers of market surveys, according to Holmes. The cheaper option costs $30,000 and just analyzes the wants and needs of artists and their families. The second tier runs $42,500 and also looks at creative businesses and relevant nonprofit agencies in the area. Both studies would take about six months to complete, according to Holmes.

Holmes was bullish on the area after meeting with city and community leaders.

“The East Colfax area has a ton of potential and there’s clearly something that’s been starting to happen through the arts district, through the performing arts spaces there, through DAVA (Downtown Aurora Visual Arts) and the ACAD space … but it’s not always obvious,” she said. “I think Aurora needs more of a critical mass in that area to scream arts district to really tell the outside world that this is a space that you might want to visit and experience art.”

At the March 1 meeting, Holmes outlined several of Artspace’s successful projects in Colorado and across the country. Locally, the company is in various phases of development in Lakewood, Denver, Loveland, Elizabeth, Pueblo and Ridgway, among others.

Holmes said projects that are selected to be developed into bona fide live/work hubs typically take between three and five years to complete. She added that Artspace projects are funded through public-private partnerships and rely heavily on low-income housing tax credits — more than half of the funding for the touted Artspace project in Loveland came from the vouchers.

Holmes peered at several properties with Aurora arts owners, including the Friends Building, The Soul Center, the Riviera Motel and the so-called Eagle Claw Building at 14th and Yosemite, according to Tracy Weil, managing director of the ACAD.

Weil said the option of constructing a new structure, possibly near the Martin Luther King Jr. Library, was also discussed.

At the March 1 meeting, audience members expressed optimism about the city’s progressive peek at Aurora’s urban core, but were concerned the project could take half a decade to complete.

“I really think this is a situation where, if we build it, people will come,” said TaRosa Jacobs, a local creative who attended several of the Artspace meetings.

City Councilman Bob LeGare, who attended at least two of the meetings with Artspace, expressed concern that Artspace’s report could be skewed.

“I want to make sure we’re getting an unbiased analysis — not a foregone conclusion,” he said.

LeGare added he still supports the Artspace effort, but he’s hesitant to put hefty support for the arts atop the city’s laundry list of municipal issues.

“With the extensive need we have for low-income housing in this city the other question I have is, is it the right thing to do when we have teachers and all kinds of low-income people in the community who can’t really afford to live here?” he said.