Loveland moving forward on arts hub

$12 million project will transform historic building

Loveland has long been known as a thriving artists’ community, but recent development activity is taking the town’s culture to the next level among creative types.

Minneapolis-based Artspace, which runs a network of 35 affordable arts facilities in 13 states, is transforming the old Feed & Grain building in downtown Loveland into a community asset with the arts as the common thread weaving together affordable housing, community programs and creative entrepreneurship.

The $12 million project will include 30 new affordable residential and work units and transform the historic Feed & Grain building into a commercial arts hub. The development will feature community exhibit and event space, a computer lab, community laundry room and outdoor courtyard.

Artspace was established in 1979 to serve as an advocate for artists’ facility needs. By the late 1980s, a more proactive approach was taken, so the group made the leap from advocate to developer. Today, its portfolio is valued at more than $500 million.

“We look at a number of critical factors to determine whether it makes sense to move onto the next step,” says Shannon Joern, senior director of national advancement for Artspace. “We talk to local leaders, elected officials, folks in the city’s offices and local artists. We’re trying to get a sense of the area’s financial and funding resources.”

The process for the Artspace project in Loveland started in 2008, when the city contacted the organization about redeveloping the Feed & Grain building for residential use. Artspace determined that wouldn’t work, but it could develop the adjacent site to complement the Feed & Grain’s redevelopment as an arts hub. It wasn’t until 2011 that Artspace completed the lengthy process to determine the project would be appropriate.

“We spend a lot of time doing feasibility work to understand whether it’s viable,” Joern says. “We have to go through the process to understand the market.”

In addition to its roles as developer, owner and manager of the properties, Artspace serves as a consultant to communities, organizations and people seeking information and advice about developing affordable housing for artists, performing arts centers and cultural districts, often within the context of historic preservation. The group has worked as a consultant to both Denver and Lakewood, but the Loveland project is its first in Colorado.

When completed, one of the Feed & Grain project’s first tenants will be the Arts Incubator of the Rockies (AIR), which relocated from Fort Collins last August. AIR strives to merge creativity with the innovation of business to raise the value of the arts in all communities.

“We knew on a practical level that we were starting to work more throughout the state, and the closer we could be to the center, the better,” says Beth Flowers, AIR’s executive director. “We wanted to be in a smaller community than Fort Collins and one that had a little more of the startup feel. Loveland is a little edgier.”

That a national organization like Artspace has chosen Loveland only sweetens the deal.

“When you’re in a physical space that’s attracting people who are pushing the envelope and renovating and trying to create something new out of something old, there’s a feeling of camaraderie and community that’s infectious,” Flowers says.

Developers already are taking notice. Last year, Brinkman Partners completed The Gallery Flats, a five-story, 66-unit apartment building in the heart of downtown, and the $4 million Rialto Theater Center expansion that added a restaurant, larger lobby, community room and office space totaling 20,000 square feet of new construction.

“Loveland, like all communities, has a unique character,” says Leah Johnson, a community advocate who serves on the Loveland Fund Committee of the Community Foundation of Northern Colorado. “Over the course of the last 10 years, there’s been a lot of energy put into revitalizing our downtown. Now we’re starting to see some of those efforts pay off.”

Downtown Loveland is poised for even bigger changes.

Voters in February approved the creation of a Downtown Development Authority (DDA) that will pump property tax money into revitalization efforts. Mike Scholl, the city’s economic development manager, estimates the DDA could generate up to $50 million investments in downtown Loveland over the next 25 years.

The city already has formed a partnership with New Jersey-based Michaels Development Co. to redevelop two city blocks with a mixed-use project that includes a parking structure. The city also is focused on attracting a large employer, and Scholl says an agreement with a company that would bring 300 employees to downtown could be reached in the next few weeks.

The city’s vision calls for two areas of focus: the North Catalyst Project and the South Catalyst project areas on either end of Fourth Street.

“We felt that putting the development on the north and south ends of downtown would bring in the density and drive traffic on Fourth Street,” Scholl says.

Like the most of the state, Loveland also has a booming residential market. With inventory down 18 percent in 2014 from the previous year, it’s getting harder to find affordable housing in the community. The median sales price of a single-family home rose 12.2 percent to $291,606, up from $260,000 the previous year, according to an analysis of Information and Real Estate Services (IRES) data, the multiple listing service that covers northern Colorado.

And though there’s been a surge in both single-family and residential building permits, developers can’t keep up with the demand for housing. Developers pulled 361 permits last year, up nearly 55 percent from 233 in 2013. The number of permits pulled for apartment units skyrocketed 91 percent from 109 in 2013 to 208 last year.

The apartment vacancy rate at the end of last year was just 2 percent, down from 2.7 percent in 2013, according to statistics from the Colorado Division of Housing. A vacancy rate of 5 percent is considered normal.

The scarcity of apartment projects has rents soaring. The median rent for an apartment in Loveland rose nearly 30 percent to $1,282.

“The rental market in Loveland is still difficult if you’re a renter, but if you’re a landlord you love it,” Johnson says. “It’s the best rental market we’ve ever had.”

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