York pursuing artists' colony

Written by Emily Previti | Jun 28, 2014 12:01 AM

(York, Pa.) --  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 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 a compound 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 there.

The city has been offering up to $7,000 in subsidies to artists and entrepreneurs who locate downtown through its York Artist Homestead Program since it launched in 2006.

Since that program’s launch in 2006, 13 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, says this project will be different.

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

The Homestead initiative also applies only to commercial space.

That’s just one component of the new project.

Close says 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."

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.

Apartment rental rates would be subject to those rules, too.

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

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 says.

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 also says she 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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