Live/work space for artists one step closer to reality in Mt. Clemens

In opening up a potential development to public discourse, in any city, there’s the opportunity for dissenting voices.

So when the Anton Art Center, City of Mt. Clemens, Mt. Clemens Downtown Development Authority, and the Mt. Clemens Foundation opened up the Preliminary Feasibility Study for an Artspace live/work development in Mt. Clemens, there surely must have been a few naysayers.

Not so, says Phil Gilchrist, executive director of the Anton Art Center.

"The key component in passing the feasibility study was the support from our community, the level of participation of the broad array of stakeholders that came out," Gilchrist says.

"Not one person expressed a varying opinion."

It was that unwavering support, says Gilchrist, that led to Artspace, the Minneapolis-based live/work arts space developer, determining that Mt. Clemens is indeed a viable location to build one of the next Artspace developments. The feasibility report was released earlier this month.

This is no small feat. There are only so many of these developments to have been built by the non-profit organization.

"It’s exciting because Artspace has around 50 of these developments across the nation. The fact that we’ve been deemed as a viable location is a testament to Mt. Clemens," Gilchrist says.

"And the fact that there is one in Dearborn already speaks to the vibrancy of the art community in southeastern Michigan."

Artspace builds mixed-use developments that offer live/work spaces for area artists at affordable rates. They do this through financing projects, at least in part, through tax credits and subsidies, and taking on little debt in the first place.

Many of their developments, as with the old city hall in Dearborn, see the adaptive reuse of otherwise unused and often historic city-owned buildings. The organization takes an untaxed property off of a city’s hands and puts it to use.

"Mt. Clemens is a place that is ripe for economic development. This is the type of project that can do that. If we can bring Artspace here, it will create a solid art infrastructure and help build up the art community," Gilchrist says.

"The city has a lot of non-taxed properties. When Artspace takes over a space, it goes back on the tax rolls."

Still, despite the city being deemed a viable location, there is yet quite a distance to go before Mt. Clemens becomes home to the newest Artspace. A market survey will be released in the following months and, following an analysis, a market study will be completed as soon as April 2020. There are several pre-development and development phases to follow that, including financing, design and architecture, and construction phases.

Gilchrist estimates that the soonest an Artspace can open in Mt. Clemens is in two years, though it could take a couple years longer than that still.

A location has yet to be determined. Artspace itself identified its top three locations, though that could completely change by the time the process is over.

Currently, the number one choice is the old Saint Joseph Sanitarium and Bath House, Grotto, and Chapel on North Avenue. An office building at 85 N. Main St. is the second choice and the old Victory Inn on North River Road is third.

While a lot can change, and an Artspace development is still no sure bet, it’s still much, much closer than it was before.

"A development like Artspace really helps to build a base of an arts community. And then we can develop it further, give it structure and place; it cements that community in Mt. Clemens," Gilchrist says.

"It will bring more people to the city, more people visiting businesses here, more people living here, and a bigger tax base.

"It’s really exciting about the possibility of bringing one of these developments here. It has a ton of potential."

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MJ Galbraith is a writer and musician living in Detroit. Follow him on Twitter @mikegalbraith.