In July 2015, business leaders, community development experts, arts advocates and city officials took a bus tour of a downtown Mesa area transformed by creative placemaking and transit-oriented development. John C. Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and Mesa Mayor John Giles was among them.
Tour stops highlighted strengths and challenges. Just south of Main Street, Giles pointed to a large, vacant lot where he hoped to see an affordable housing project built by Artspace, a nationally known developer of projects that support artists. “It has potential,” Williams quipped, as if assessing a fixer-upper. “Yes, it has good bones,” Giles replied, not missing a beat.
Mesa Artspace Lofts, a 50-unit, live-work apartment complex built especially for artists, had a ceremonial groundbreaking today (May 24). The permanent affordable housing complex at 155 S. Hibbert St. will have good bones. It’s also a transit-oriented development that will strengthen the beating heart of a disconnected neighborhood near the Valley Metro light-rail corridor.
“We believe in creativity and in giving working artists a real chance to put their feet on the ground and contribute back to the community,” said Kelley Lindquist, president of Minneapolis-based Artspace. “These working households have children; they have grandparents. … It becomes family-oriented with activities that make a tremendous impact in community development around our building.”
Mesa Artspace Lofts is five years in the making. It moved from an idea in 2012 through the many stages of the deliberative planning and development processes of Artspace.
Each unit has a dedicated workspace for artists of all disciplines who meet low-income criteria. The complex also includes 1,500 square feet of community space for galleries and classrooms. It’s in close proximity to the Mesa Arts Center and other venues in the growing downtown Mesa arts and culture hub.
Artspace affordable housing projects earn national distinction for quality construction. Unlike some low-income apartments, Artspace-owned projects are built to last and to remain affordable housing in perpetuity.
As with all Artspace projects, the $15.9 million Mesa Artspace Lofts was fully supported and funded before construction began. Funding comes from the Arizona Department of Housing, JP Morgan Chase, LISC Phoenix, the Arizona Community Foundation, the city of Mesa HOME Funds, the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, and Raymond James.
There is no cookie-cutter quality to any projects in the Artspace portfolio. While the nonprofit organization has a tried-and-true method for developing projects, each one takes on a life of its own, Lindquist said.
What makes Mesa Artspace Lofts distinct from other Artspace projects?
“Honest to goodness, the first thing that comes to mind is that the community has been incredibly gracious and helpful,” Lindquist said. “I’m sorry. That sounds like maybe that’s something I would say anywhere, but I don’t. It’s been pretty much the whole way through from wonderful elected officials, to the hard-working city administrators to the business neighborhood around us to the wonderful Mesa Arts Center that is so close to us and then the artists, the philanthropists. ”
“Frankly, the entire experience, it was a lot of hard work, a lot of communication, but it was also incredibly positive,” Lindquist said. “People had a positive, can-do spirit and that’s also embraced in our partner NEDCO.”
Mesa Artspace Lofts will take about a year to build. Information sessions for potential renters will continue through this fall. The lofts will start taking rental applications next spring. Families will start moving into the units in May 2018.