York pursues artists’ colony combining living and working

    One of York’s historic empty buildings could host an artists’ colony as soon as three years from now.

    Consultants for Minneapolis-based Artspace recently wrapped up a study showing the city can support a 56-unit live/work complex consisting for apartments and studio workspaces.

    Artspace Vice President of Special Projects Roy Close first estimated he and his team would find support for an artists’ colony of between 35 and 45 units.

    Then they did their research, which included a survey of 469 people, and realized the ideal size for York would be about 40 percent larger.

    Close thinks that’s simply a function of relatively strong support for the arts in York.

    The city has been offering up to $7,000 in subsidies to artists and entrepreneurs who locate downtown through its Artist Homestead Program since it launched in 2006. Thirteen artists and entrepreneurs have taken advantage, according to state Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York.

    Schreiber, who used to be the city’s economic development director, said this project will be different.

    “This is taking Artist Homestead and injecting it with steroids,” Schreiber says.

    The Homestead initiative is limited to commercial space.

    That’s just one component of the new project.

    Close said the definition of “artist” for purposes of qualification is intended to be broad.

    “People who are in creative fields of various kinds. So if you’re a graphic artist, or a weaver, that’s fine. What we look for is a commitment, on the part of the person, to a career in that field,” he said.

    Only artists with incomes less than $41,120 – that’s 60 percent of the county median in 2014 – can apply, though, as per federal affordable housing program guidelines for the York area.

    Apartment rental rates would be subject to those rules, too. Currently, that’s a maximum of $770 for a one-bedroom, according to HUD.

    The adherence to HUD guidelines means the city can use federal low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC) to help finance the actual construction of the units.

    Schreiber says that’s the biggest potential pitfall because the LIHTC program is so competitive.

    The state has awarded less than a third of the $517 million requested since 2010, according to numbers from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency.

    Assuming agency approval, work would start in spring 2016 and last about a year, Close said.

    Possible sites include the former Woolworth building on West Market Street and Keystone Colorworks, a shuttered factory.

    Picking the site is one of the very next steps, according to Close.

    That and other predevelopment work is expected to cost $750,000.

    The financially-strapped city could use federal affordable housing funding to pay for that, too, but Mayor Kim Bracey said she also hopes to get some funding from the local business community.

    Artspace consultants say money often is the biggest challenge in the 223 cities where they’ve worked.

    Of those, 36 now have a completed project.

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