Gastonia art district might grow with Artspace

The parking lot across from Gastonia’s City Hall downtown could get a major makeover, in the form of a four-story building with a parking deck, wellness center, and living and working space for 40 artists.

The property, at the southeast corner of South Street and Franklin Boulevard, is owned by the city but would be bought by Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that develops and manages affordable facilities for artists to live and work in.

The City Council’s central city revitalization and housing committee met Tuesday to hear about the proposed location and voted 2-1 to send the Artspace plan to the next council meeting in August. The council is expected to decide then whether to put the parking lot property, appraised at $207,700, up for sale.

The housing that Artspace manages, at 36 sites nationwide, has low mortgages upfront for residents and affordable rent with tax credits from the N.C. Housing Finance Agency to keep the facility operational, said Greg Handberg, senior vice president of properties at Artspace. The residences have room for artists to live and work, as well as communal space, galleries and nonresidential space on the ground floor.

CaroMont Health is also interested in putting a wellness center in the building that could offer classes and health services.

“Artists have long been catalysts for economic development,” Handberg said. “With Artspace, those artists will have a permanent home.”

Some residents are concerned about the loss of parking spaces, particularly local churches with elderly members. The city has plans for replacing the lost parking with an option to convert the front lot of the conference center on Franklin Boulevard to public parking and reassign city employee parking behind the Garland Center on South Street.

“Downtown has changed,” City Manager Ed Munn said. “There’s constant new land use, and parking has to be adaptable. It’s a good problem to have.”

The Community Foundation of Gaston County is a local nonprofit that has worked closely with Artspace to bring the project to Gastonia since 2010 to revitalize the downtown area and expand on a growing arts district on South Street.

“It has been a wonderful process,” said Merryman Cassels, a board member of the Community Foundation who has been involved with the project since its beginning. “We’ve been able to hear folks and hear their needs to create a community-centered project. I love that folks are so willing to create something that will make a huge difference to Gastonia.”

The building will likely encompass 60,000 square feet and cost around $10 million, Handberg said.

About 80 percent of funding for the project would come from Artspace, with the other 10 to 20 percent coming from private philanthropies, including the Community Foundation. “A large national financial institute in Charlotte” may become a partner, Handberg said.

If the full City Council allows the plan to go forward, Artspace can begin the process of applying for tax credits and buying the lot from the city. The property could be built and operational as early as the end of 2016.

“We’ve done everything we can to put together a wonderful package that will impact the community and the lives of artists in the community,” Cassels said. “This is going to be the most exciting development in Gastonia in ages.”