Living the Craft

Affordable 'artist lofts' paint a success story for Dominium.

The renovation of the Pillsbury A. Mill will expand affordable housing stock in Minneapolis. Image courtesy of Dominium.

By Armand Brachman, Dominium

Since 2004, Dominium has been developing and managing artist lofts in the Twin Cities and St. Louis areas, providing affordable housing and workspace to local artists. Artist lofts combine living space with studio space to accommodate art forms such as sculpture, pottery, painting, music and dance. Dominium’s artist lofts are unique in that they meet the criteria for Section 42 housing, providing a housing opportunity for low-income artists.

Dominium’s first entrance into the artist lofts market came in 2004 with the development of Carleton Artist Lofts in St. Paul, Minn. Carleton is a historic redevelopment of three warehouse buildings; it features 169 apartments, a sound studio and numerous spaces for clay, painting, and dance.

In addition to workspaces, the community also offers outdoor courtyard spaces and a rooftop deck/garden. Dominium is currently planning a renovation of the historic Schmidt Brewery and Pillsbury A. Mill in St. Paul and Minneapolis, respectively. There will be more than 500 artist lofts available when those projects are completed.

Dominium has also entered the St. Louis market by renovating two historic properties in and around downtown. The Leather Trades Artist Lofts, with 86 units and studio spaces, completed construction on Sept. 15, 2011 and was 100 percent leased by Oct. 31. Built in 1912, the building stood vacant and unoccupied for years. Public spaces include studios for sculptors, clay artists and painters, as well as soundproofed studios for musicians. Currently, the Metropolitan Artist Lofts project is under construction and will have 72 units with numerous studio spaces, all to be completed in the fall of 2012.

In every case, Dominium’s artist loft developments have been completed with the adaptive reuse of historic buildings. Using a historic building makes artist lofts feasible for a number of reasons. In addition to Low Income Housing Tax Credits, the project will be able to qualify for Federal Historic Tax Credits and, in the case of both Missouri and Minnesota, a State Historic Tax Credit as well.

The amount of these credits is essentially equal to 20 percent of the eligible rehabilitation costs of the project. Credits are sold to an investor to support the financial feasibility of the project. For all of Dominium’s artist lofts, with the exception of Carleton, the matching State Historic Tax Credits have been essential in making the projects fiscally possible.

Additionally, historic buildings are often located in the middle of larger cities, thereby making them more desirable within the rental market and for potential investors. And historic buildings are often easily converted and sometimes required by the National Park Service to be “loft” style, using elements like concrete flooring, high ceilings and exposed ductwork.

Last, but not least, historic buildings are often strongly appreciated by the artist community. Creating artist lofts in an historic structure adds to the story and character of a living space, thereby making it a more desirable place to live.

It is important to note that these projects are not required in any kind of regulatory agreement to be rented solely to artists. Being an artist project under Section 42 does not allow for any additional rent to be charged. The artist-only restriction is imposed by Dominium as owner and manager of the property. In order to be considered to live in the building, potential residents must meet with a panel of fellow artists to show their work and confirm their artistic field in order to gain approval for residency.

From a developer and owner perspective, artist lofts are desirable in the right situation because they differentiate themselves from other, more traditional projects in a given market. A competitive advantage is created when an artist is offered the chance to live and work in the same building, using studio spaces that are available to every resident.

Armand Brachman is a managing partner for Dominium, a Minneapolis-based owner, developer and manager of apartment communities nationwide, with more than 21,000 owned and/or managed units at 205 sites in 21 states. Brachman has over 30 years of experience in the affordable housing industry.

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