October 10, 2016
CENTRAL MASS IN BRIEF

Creative Hub mustering $3.5M to buy new home

Creative Hub co-founders Stacy Lord and Laura Marotta stand in the space they hope to turn into a dedicated location for artists.

In a move to create affordable space for artists in Worcester, the Creative Hub has partnered with the Arts and Business Council of Greater Boston to buy the former Ionic Avenue Boys and Girls Club.

The Creative Hub was announced in June as a 30,000-square-foot space for artists with approximately 25 studios as well as space for artists to sell their wares. The latest announcement from the organization is a partnership aimed at buying and renovating the space at 2 Ionic Ave. for approximately $3.5 million.

What is this Boston group?

The Arts and Business Council has the mission of supporting artists and nonprofits in Greater Boston. In that role, it has assisted artistic nonprofits with finding space in the past and realized that there was an ongoing need for this as the state gets increasingly gentrified.

This will be the first project under their Creative Campus program where they intend to buy property and rent space to artistic nonprofits so that communities can retain their artistic nature in the face of rent increases and spiking property values.

"We've always been supportive but never really taking the lead on owning [property] … We realized we needed to take more of a leadership role if we wanted to see things change," said Jim Grace, executive director of the Arts and Business Council.

By making this expressly part of the mission, Grace hopes to build momentum with each project.

"For-profit developers are wonderful at that. They develop in one town … and build support," he said explaining that this method can be used to bring older buildings back to life. "There's an economic tension in these older buildings that need such a rehabilitation … They're not yet financially viable for the for-profit conversions but they are too expensive for use right now because they need so much work. They are stuck between two worlds."

Worcester as pilot program

Although this model has been used to good effect in other parts of the country, this location in Worcester would be a pilot for Creative Campus, said Grace who pointed to Artspace in Minneapolis as a successful example of this type of real estate development.

When asked why Worcester, he cited the work that has already gone into the Creative Hub; from a study quantifying the need to building partnerships.

"They have done a lot of work to demonstrate the need and prove it can happen," said Grace.

Why buy?

At the time of the initial announcement, Laura Marotta and Stacy Lord who co-founded the Creative Hub were working with 2 Ionic Ave.'s owner Peter Heaney. Under a new agreement with Heaney, the Creative Hub has until the end of the year to commit to purchasing the space, said Marotta.

The two groups will then be able to finance the improvements to transform the space. All of this is expected to cost approximately $3.5 million.

Money and MassDevelopment

The money will be coming from a number of different sources, including fundraising from Creative Hub and private donors, said Marotta. The biggest funding source the two groups are hoping to tap into is MassDevelopment. According to Marotta, the state agency can fund up to 90 percent of the project through an economic development loan. Grace put in that application in the first week of October.

Both Marotta and Grace are positive about the project's prospects while acknowledging there is a long way to go in a short amount of time. This optimism is mainly due to the many people who have been supportive of the project from the city to potential private donors.

"It's a perfect storm of all these groups coming together," Grace said.

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