The new Hope Artiste Village, on Main Street in Pawtucket, hopes to break the familiar cycle of gentrification: when industry moves out, artists move in, turning empty loft space into a creative paradise until they are inevitably forced out. This is what famously happened in Providence’s Eagle Square, where the Fort Thunder collective was wiped out to make way for a shopping center in 2001.
Los Angeles-based developer Urban Smart Growth (urbansmartgrowth.net) is converting the 650,000-square-foot mill building into a mixed-use facility for artists and small businesses. Corinne Wahlberg, a spokeswoman for the project (as well as a songwriter and dramaturge), says Hope Artiste Village is “not only concerned with providing creative space for artists, but also the opportunity for art commerce.”
The complex formerly housed Hope Webbing, a textile manufacturer, and the School House Candy Company; the former moved out in 1995, and the latter three years later. Urban Smart Growth bought the buildings in 2004; several ventures have already moved in, including New Harvest Coffee Roasters, a tattoo parlor/art gallery, Seven Stars’ bakery, and a violin maker’s workshop. The Blackstone, a music venue, restaurant, and art gallery, relocated to the Village from Cumberland this summer. These undertakings are part of the project’s first phase, which consists of office and light industry space on the north side of the complex.
Phase two, currently underway on the south side, will include retail shops, artist studios, and office spaces set to open by late winter. The 11 live/work spaces available to artists as part of phase two have been reserved. Phase three is a four-story building at the back of the complex, with 134 residential and live/work units that will be available for lease in 2009. The Village will also house music and rehearsal studios and a 6000-square-foot theater.
The move toward sustainable commercial space for art is gaining attention in the Providence area, with smaller-scale projects like the Plant and Monohasset Mill, both near Eagle Square, offering partially subsidized live/work space to small creative enterprises. Erik Bright, project coordinator of the Monohasset Mill and co-director of the Partnership for Creative Industrial Space, a Providence-based advocacy group for affordable commercial real estate for artists and small businesses, says this combination of art and commerce is a key to local and national economic development.
“Because industry is changing, the manufacturing-based jobs are going overseas. The one thing is that we are still the innovators and entrepreneurs of the world,” Bright says. “Artists think outside the box. To be competitive, you have to think outside the box . . . The truth of the matter is, artists are small businesses, and I think they are being viewed more and more as young entrepreneurs.”
Part of the Hope Artiste Village mission is to facilitate this kind of innovative entrepreneurship. The economic base provided by such tenants as New Harvest and Seven Stars will allow Urban Smart Growth to accommodate start-ups and fledgling artists, Wahlberg says, charging only what rent they can afford. Bright says these incentives are the only way to keep artists and innovators in the Providence area, and to fight rising commercial real estate values.
“The sheer size of that development [the Hope Artiste Village] can have a significant impact,” he says. “I hope it will influence other developers to provide affordable commercial space by showing that there really is a market for that, that we can attract small businesses to Providence as opposed to having them leave our city.”
Urban Smart Growth plans to convert into residential lofts other mill real estate it has purchased in North Providence and Eagle Square.