Carbondale market study to inform the future of artist live-work spaces |

Carbondale market study to inform the future of artist live-work spaces

Carla Jean Whitley
Special to the Post Independent

creative housing solutions series

This week the Post Independent is publishing a series of stories about a unique effort to address affordable housing needs, and what at least one local community might learn from others across the state.

The series was made possible in part by a grant from Solutions Journalism Network. It also coincides with an affordable housing survey being conducted by Carbondale Arts and the town of Carbondale that will inform its next steps in developing residences for creative people.

The survey is open through Monday, and can be found at

Part 1: The affordable housing crisis.

Part 2: Loveland’s artist live-work space inspired Colorado to seek similar opportunities statewide.

Part 3: Trinidad’s public officials and artists work together to diversify the town’s economy.

Part 4: As Carbondale considers the possibility of artist live/work space, what can the town learn from others?


What is an artist?

The state uses a broad definition for artists and creative sector workers, as does Artspace. Those roles include: actors, architects, audio and video technicians, art directors, book binding, painters, musicians, singers, song writers, music directors and composers, musical instrument designers and manufacturers, authors and writers, illustrators, publishers, photographers, dancers, choreographers, sculptors, advertising and promotions professionals, editors, commercial and industrial designers, sound engineers, interior designers, apparel and fashion designers and manufacturers, set and exhibit designers, reporters and correspondents, museum curators, technicians and conservators, film, television and video script writers and producers, camera operators, broadcast technicians, culinary artists, craftspeople, craft distillers and brewers, sign makers, public relations specialists, multi-media artists and animators, as well as creative workers and arts administrators in theater, performance venues, museums, libraries, studios and galleries.

Based on its last 15 years of arts market surveys, Artspace said only 10 percent of artist respondents earn 100 percent of their income through their art.

Source: Space to Create Frequently Asked Questions, Carbondale preliminary feasibility study


Creative district growth

Colorado’s creative sector includes almost 8,000 businesses and 186,000 jobs. That makes it the state’s fifth-largest employment cluster. Colorado Creative Industries also tracks figures for its creative districts:

• 25,624 creative district jobs, up 3 percent from 2015

• Carbondale is home to 839 creative jobs, also a 3 percent increase

• $1.7 billion industry earnings, a 4 percent increase since 2015

• Creative industries in Carbondale pulled in $26.4 million in 2016, an 8 percent increase from the year prior

Source: Colorado Creative Industries, 2016 data

Artists move into an affordable community. They then create beautiful spaces and draw attention to their endeavors. As a result, more people move into a community. As housing demand rises, artists are often displaced. The cycle repeats elsewhere.

It’s a story that has played out in communities throughout the nation, but Carbondale doesn’t want that scenario to become its reality. The town took steps to avoid that cycle two years ago, when it became a certified creative district through Colorado Creative Industries. CCI is a division of the state’s Office of Economic Development and International Affairs, and it approaches creative businesses with a broad definition and a business perspective.

In the 26 months since it became certified, Carbondale Creative District has marketed its 200-plus businesses, initiated a system of wayfinding signage and worked on the Rio Grande Artway.

The town also has considered whether its creative assets can be part of an affordable housing solution. A recent study identified growing population, high construction costs, marketing pressures from Aspen and an increase in second-home buyers as factors in the town’s affordable housing crunch. The state’s rising population also has increased demand throughout Colorado.

“There are creative people of all sorts who gravitate to these rural communities, sometimes for the natural environment,” Anna Growcott said. Growcott is director of consulting and strategic partnerships for Artspace, a nonprofit real estate developer that focuses on space for people in creative professions.

Communities across Colorado have started looking to efforts that target creatives for possible solutions.

Although Carbondale was not selected for the state’s Space to Create affordable artist housing program, the town is moving forward with consultant Artspace. Those involved hope a live-work project will help preserve the town’s creative character while demonstrating an alternative to relying on for-profit developers for affordable housing. And while the effort is focused on a specific subset of residents, there may be lessons others can learn from the model.

“There’s plenty of room to do the kind of patient, nonprofit community real estate development work in lots of places, addressing similar types of local-sector needs,” said Shannon Joern, Artspace vice president of national advancement.


Affordable housing efforts are slow-moving processes.

A number of local stakeholders gathered at Carbondale’s Third Street Center in February 2016. That housing forum allowed community members a chance to discuss existing efforts and the challenges they faced. Nearly two years later, in December 2017, interested parties again convened — this time, to talk about a specific proposal.

Colorado announced Space to Create in July 2015. It’s the nation’s first state-driven program for affordable housing focused on creatives, and by 2020 the program will have initiated projects in nine rural Colorado regions.

The application process is rigorous: Communities must organize local leaders, identify the municipality’s available staff and resources, identify local resources for matching grant funds and build relationships with the Department of Local Affairs as well as local property owners. The full application also requires a resolution from the local government that it will match $35,000 to fund a feasibility study, an arts market survey and more.

Carbondale applied for the 2017 cycle, which focused on the northwest region of Colorado. The state selected Paonia, but that wasn’t a reflection of Carbondale’s suitability. In fact, Margaret Hunt said the deciding factor was Paonia’s recent mine closures.

“They desperately needed to diversify their economy,” said Hunt, director of CCI, which administers Space to Create.

In contrast, Carbondale was economically healthy and capable of moving forward with Space to Create consultants Artspace on its own. The town opted to do so, and the public side of its efforts kicked off with that December meeting.


Minneapolis-based nonprofit Artspace develops affordable housing and workspace for artists, and also is available to consult with communities that opt to develop their own properties. During 30 years as a developer, the organization has refined its process. Although each of its projects is a response to local needs, they begin with a similar process.

“We have a nuts and bolts process in that we have tools we rely on to do our work,” Joern said. “But that allows us to work with communities to find out what is needed in that community and what project meets those needs.”

Artspace began step one, a feasibility study, with a visit to Carbondale.

The three-day December trip included conversations with about 100 interested residents. Artspace listened to those people in a public meeting and focus groups about creative and arts organizations, civic leadership, finance and funder leadership and members of the business sector. Artspace staff also spent time visiting potential sites for a project.

These efforts informed a 38-page preliminary feasibility report, which will help guide the town as it moves forward. Nearly all respondents indicated interest in a live-work space, which Artspace found consistent with the town’s 2013 comprehensive plan.

The plan indicates goals such as preserving affordability and supporting creative businesses and nonprofits. It asks, “How can Carbondale evolve and become an even better place without losing its quality and small town character?”

Those who spoke with Artspace also expressed interest in makerspace, teaching space and event space. Both town officials and residents articulated those needs — a key distinction, as Artspace has found these projects benefit from community buy-in.

The next step, in process now, is a quantitative approach to defining that space. The town’s arts market study, which remains open through Monday, aims to gather information from creative people within 50 miles of Carbondale. The survey will determine both the type of space suitable and whether there is enough interest to support a project.

If a project results, it will likely be rental units. That won’t serve those who are focused on buying homes, but it’s a step.

“This won’t solve every problem. We can’t do that,” said Amy Kimberly, director of Carbondale Arts and a member of the Carbondale Creative District’s governance committee. However, she hopes these efforts will encourage creative thinking about affordable housing.


The feasibility study encouraged the town to move forward in its pursuit of affordable housing. “Carbondale is well-positioned to pursue an affordable live-work, mixed-use facility for artists and creatives,” it says. “With a robust creative sector and strong town leadership, mixed with overlapping community goals, and an array of funding resources for affordable housing, the feasibility of moving a project forward is very positive.”

The town is taking notes on creative solutions elsewhere, such as how Denver’s RiNo neighborhood has worked alongside developers to establish mutually beneficial solutions. But the challenges vary from community to community.

Kimberly pointed out that Carbondale is at a disadvantage because it doesn’t own land that could be used for this purpose. Some cities, including Trinidad, have capitalized on vacant property for historic adaptive reuse. That won’t be the case in Carbondale, where there are currently no vacant buildings downtown.

Even so, the feasibility study identified several potential sites for a live-work space.

Artspace staff toured several properties during the December visit. Of those, the organization identified three as priority: the vacant lot adjacent to Studio for Arts and Works on Buggy Circle, a portion of the Carbondale Industrial Park near the Rio Grande Trail and Artway, and near the City Market roundabout site.

If, after the market study, the town opts to continue with Artspace, it would begin a series of predevelopment phases. The first of these would determine project location and size by considering availability, cost and ability to meet the project’s goals, among other factors. Subsequent phases would require the town to identify funding sources and begin construction.

Artspace brings funding expertise to any of its projects; because it has already completed one Colorado project and has several others in process, the organization is familiar with the state’s funding mechanisms. Low income housing tax credits account for more than half of funds for Artspace projects in Loveland and Trinidad. The remainder of money in both of those cases came from a number of sources, including the Department of Local Affairs, private sources and the municipalities themselves.

The length and cost of each phase varies, ranging from $150,000 to more than $300,000 for predevelopment, and they could add up to two years or more. The town and Artspace wouldn’t begin construction until the predevelopment phases were complete.

Tenants would apply for leases during building construction.

It’s a lengthy process, but Carbondale already knows that. After all, this conversation isn’t new, and leaders have said they’re committed to long-term solutions.

As the community explores this approach to its affordable housing problem, Kimberly is fond of sharing wisdom from technology forecaster Paul Saffo:

“Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.”

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