Proposed artists’ housing development studied further

Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Artspace was back in town last week, and the possibility of bringing to the city an affordable live-work complex for artists is a step closer to becoming reality.

Officials with the nonprofit development group were here June 22 and 23 to conduct a project feasibility study that included scouting potential sites and meetings with various community stakeholders. City development officials were encouraged by the results.

“I was very pleased with the outpouring from the community,” said John Morgan, chairman of the East Dearborn Downtown Development Authority. “I think we had a very good cross section of people who came out, from the artist community to the finance community. The overall tone was very optimistic for everyone.”

The visit marks the second to Dearborn for the Minneapolis-based Artspace, which specializes in bringing together public and private capital to build affordable live/work space for artists and arts organizations, often by performing comprehensive restorations on vacant buildings needing serious work. Organization officials also were here in April for a preliminary fact-finding visit.

One of the primary purposes for the study was assessing the city’s available real-estate stock. On a driving tour June 22, community development officials showed off 11 properties identified as possible sites.

In east Dearborn, there were nine buildings. Downtown, officials looked at the closed Kroger supermarket on Colson, the soon-to-be vacant 5050 Schaefer building across the street, the Historic Schaefer Building on the northeast corner of Schaefer and Michigan Avenue as well as the recently closed Joe Ricci Dodge dealership on Michigan Avenue.

The other east-side buildings toured were the 300,000 square-foot Fairlane Office Centre on Mercury, “The Bridge” executive building on the campus of the former Lear Corp. headquarters at Southfield and Ford Road, the old Alba House Media on Pinehurst near Warren, the Anchor Conveyor Products Inc. facility on Kingsley and the Dearborn Research and Industrial Center on Brandt.

And while the east-side sites slanted to industrial facilities or big-box designs, the west-side sites were mostly office buildings. They include: The Albert-Kahn designed Ford Motor Co. Engineering Lab near The Henry Ford on Oakwood, and, in the west downtown, the Atrium office building at Mason and Garrison, and the former headquarters of Plastech Engineered Products Inc. on Garrison.

The locations are far from a final list, however, and there even have been discussions about creating a scattered “campus-type” site that would comprise multiple buildings in proximity. In the coming months, Artspace may conduct a comprehensive market survey to find out what local artists would want to live in and what they’d be willing to pay for it – a step that would help guide site selection.

Stacey Mickelson, Artspace vice president for government relations, took the site tour and said survey responses tend to vary from market to market. Deviations aside, however, he said there is a basic litmus test mentioned by nearly every respondent.

“Is it cool? Is it safe? And is it affordable? These are the things that (artists) are looking for,” he said.