Case Study

Space to Create Colorado

6 min read

Live, Work, Create Under One Roof

Timing is everything. Wendy Holmes, senior vice president of Artspace Consulting, just returned from the opening celebration of Artspace Ridgway, one of eight proposed affordable housing and live/workspace developments for Colorado artists. So, she was eager to describe the housewarming.

“The impact of these kinds of projects on small towns is pretty tremendous,” says Holmes. “They rolled out the red carpet, so it was fun. There’s a lot of talent in these rural mountain communities.”

Part of a multi-agency, public/private partnership program called Space to Create Colorado, the $11 million, 30-unit Ridgway project was developed by Artspace, which also acted as lead consultant. The Minneapolis-based Artspace, a nonprofit, works not just in Colorado but has properties nationwide.

“The residents of the building of course were involved as was the Creative District,” she says. “All the communities in which we’re doing Space to Create projects also have certified Creative Districts, and so they’re very active and they do a lot of programming for the arts.”

The celebration at Ridgway (in Southwest Colorado about 45 minutes away from Telluride, in the foothills of the San Juan Mountains) went on for four hours and involved a lot of music. Several hundred people turned out, impressive since the total population of the town is only about 1,000.

An aerialist and a poetry reading helped round out the festive day at Ridgway.

Ridgway was the first community to go through a competitive process at the state level to become a Space to Create community, Holmes says. (There was a pilot project first, in Trinidad, and before that an Artspace project in Loveland, the Loveland Arts Campus, that got the momentum started for Space to Create.)

The apartments are designed to be spaces to create in addition to spaces to live in.

“They have galley kitchens and durable surfaces. A lot of natural light and tall ceilings and wider doorways and hallways. They’re designed with the creative community in mind,” she says.

Artspace communities are meant to be mixed-use, with a variety of retail shops and working studios geared to local businesses, rather than chains.

A Total of Eight
Forthcoming Space to Create Colorado communities includes Carbondale, Grand Junction, Grand Lake and Salida, with a total of eight planned in addition to the pilot.

The road to Ridgway’s opening celebration was a long one, eight years in total.

“The process started in 2015. They had to prove that they had a critical mass of creative people and that they had a leadership behind making a mixed-use project successful,” says Holmes. So, Artspace conducted an Arts Market Study to which more than 400 people responded to express their need for affordable spaces.

“Ridgway was the first, but it’s also hard to be the first in some ways, so it takes longer. After its “space to create” community designation, the state did a feasibility study and a market study. And then there was figuring out where the money was going to come from. Colorado has a lot of different layers of government. And so there are different paths that the financing can take, depending on which agency you go for in terms of either tax credits or housing funds.”

Nine percent Low Income Housing Tax Credit equity played a big part in the financing, as did donations by several private foundations. (See sidebar.) Raymond James Tax Credit Funds was the equity investor, and $6.7 million was raised for the project.

Artspace says the Ridgway project “aligns with the town’s clear goals for affordable housing production, Main Street economic development and added density and volume, while leveraging the Creative District and the Ramp Up Ridgway project with the Colorado Department of Transportation, which paved downtown Ridgway streets for the first time.”

A Renaissance Man
The project’s Decker Community Room “is dedicated to Ridgway resident Dr. Peter Randolph Decker (1934 to 2020), who owned the land that Ridgway Space to Create is being built on. He was a true “Renaissance Man:” a rancher, history and public policy educator, former staff assistant to Senator Robert Kennedy, former Colorado

Commissioner of Agriculture and author of several books,” Artspace says.

Remarkably, Artspace says the Ridgway project was the first-ever affordable housing development in Ouray County, CO.

The town of Ridgway notes the development has 1,280 square feet of community space and an additional 2,000 square feet “to be leased by the Town of Ridgway’s FUSE Creative Main Street Program for events, performances and classes.”

Holmes details some of the long history of Artspace, which is nearly half a century old.

“We were founded by the City of Minneapolis in 1979. And at that time, for one year, we were a department of the city, helping artists find space in the warehouse district of Minneapolis only. And a year later, we became a nonprofit, and were basically a broker for artists to find space in the warehouse district,” she says.

“But we noticed over time, that wasn’t sustainable. Those same artists would come back to us and say, ‘Hey, the rent went up, we can’t afford it. Can you help us find another space?’ So that’s when we became a real estate developer to figure out how to fund and finance these projects and design them in a way that not only attracts artists but also keeps them in place, so they don’t have to worry about that cycle of displacement.

 “It started in Minnesota and then grew nationally after that. And because we have such a unique niche, we get calls from communities now, wanting to know how they can do this. Sometimes we become developers. Sometimes we just help them figure out a path.”

For those asking how they can replicate Space to Create, Holmes recommends contacting Colorado Creative Industries, the state agency that spearheaded the creation of the initiative. Sarah Harrison is the main contact, [email protected].

Ridgway Space to Create
Project Details  
Owner/Developer: Artspace
Architect: HHL Architects 
General Contractor: Stryker and Company (Montrose) 
Partners: Town of Ridgway, Colorado Creative Industries (CCI), Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) and Colorado Housing Finance Agency (CHFA).  
Type of Development: New construction 
Number and Type of Units: 30 live/work units including six two-bedroom units and 24 one-bedroom units.
Affordability: 30 to 80 percent area median income
Commercial Space: 2,000 square feet 
Project Cost: $10 million
Project Funders to Date: Boettcher Foundation, Debbie Jessup & Tim Schultz, Enterprise Community Partners, Gates Family Foundation, Ridgway Creative District, State of Colorado’s DOLA and OEDIT/CCI agencies, Telluride Foundation, Town of Ridgway and the Western Colorado Community Foundation: Dave and Mary Wood Fund and Community Revitalization Fund (State).

Mark Fogarty has covered housing and mortgages for more than 30 years. A former editor at National Mortgage News, he has written extensively about tax credits.