Tacoma’s about to get some new creative space. A recent amendment to the city code allowing artists and developers to better create “work/live” spaces will be officially unveiled at Monday’s Mayor’s Mixer event at 1120 Creative House in downtown Tacoma. City officials, arts leaders and developers will talk about how the new code makes creative space easier, and about new and future work/live projects around the city.
“We’ve been working for a long time to allow adaptive re-use of buildings” for artists, said city arts administrator Amy McBride. “Having this code developed is important. It’s a step in the right direction.”
That direction — the creative re-use of existing historical buildings, often in areas that need uplift — is one Tacoma needs, say McBride and local developers who see the need to conserve the city’s historic character and to draw in the creative types who make a city vibrant. The code, which is an amendment to the existing Washington state building code, makes this re-use easier by codifying space as “work/live”: commercial space that also has a resident, such as an artist living behind their studio.
By quantifying the space as commercial rather than residential, the code eases up on previous requirements for sidewalks, ADA curb ramps and street improvements, all of which raise the cost of development and make it difficult to set an affordable price for artists. The easements apply to buildings less than 30,000 square feet with up to 10 living units.
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“The amendment was done in response to community requests,” explained engineer and city building official Sue Coffman. “People wanted more adaptive re-use of historic buildings that are sometimes difficult to occupy.”
The first such building to benefit is the new Station Artists’ Lofts in the McKinley neighborhood, a 6,500-square-foot former police substation recently converted to 14 one- and two-bedroom work/live units. Six will be priced affordably for artists. Located at 3542 McKinley Ave., the building was recently sold by the city and developed by Eli Moreno, owner of Pierce Real Properties and the entrepreneur behind start-up supporter SURGE Tacoma. The company will be looking for tenants at the mixer.
“It’s good for McKinley,” McBride said. “That’s what artist-loft spaces are supposed to do, to bring creative energy to a district.”
Other up-and-coming re-use projects featured at the event will be the Valhalla Hall and Kellogg-Sicker and Pochert projects on the Hilltop. Arts incubators such as the FEAST Arts Center, Spaceworks and Alma Mater, a new project that will convert the old Carpenter’s Union Building on South Fawcett Avenue into a performance and art space, will be at the mixer to talk about their plans. Refreshments will be provided.
The concept of adaptive re-use isn’t new, and has worked well in places like Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood and in Denver, where many historic buildings were saved and adapted to become vibrant residential and retail spaces. It also protects cities from the kind of over-gentrification that is pushing creative types out of booming markets such as Seattle’s Capitol Hill, Ballard and South Lake Union areas.
“Once we say that yes, we value the character and uniqueness that creative types bring to a city, we need to figure out a way to maintain more affordable space in the city so it doesn’t force (them) out,” McBride said. “Now’s the time for us to say that this is something we value.”