On the heels of expansion in the Dreyfus Building, AS220 hopes to acquire another property on Washington Street in downtown Providence, expanding the nonprofit arts organi-zations programs and footprint.
The envisioned restoration project, with an estimated $12 million cost, is an effort to provide living and working space for artists, to present an intact historical downtown, and strengthen the arts in Providence.
AS220 plans to secure the Mercantile Block — sandwiched between the Local 121 restaurant and the site of a to-be-constructed Sierra Suites Hotel. Though AS220 does not yet of-ficially own the building, it aims to close on this property in August and start construction by December or January.
Measuring at about 50,000-square-feet, the Mercantile would provide four floors and a partially usable basement, with the two upper floors serving as 22 live-in studios for art-ists, complete with personal kitchens and baths — each with rent estimated at between $500 to $800, with utilities.
Other floors of the complex could include a communal studio for visual artists, arts related incubator spaces, individual studios, rehearsal space for musicians, and the AS220 Fab Lab, a geek space. Additionally, the AS220 Print and Silk Screen Shop plans to offer instruction and the use of equipment from the location.
As for financing a multi-million dollar development, Lucie Searle, AS220’s resident development specialist, likens this sort of project to putting together an effective financing package. “Really what it’s about is assembling some pretty complicated programs that are out there,” she says.
Funding will come primarily from three sources: loans, affordable housing grants, and tax credits: federal and state historic credits and federal new markets tax credits. So far, funding is set to come from Providence Economic Development Partnership and HOME funds from Rhode Island Housing.
While debt for the recently restored Dreyfus building totals $1.5 million, Searle estimates that AS220 will be responsible to pay back $3 million for restoring the Mercantile, which is twice as big. As with the Dreyfus, the debt will be paid back through a typical 30-year mortgage, as funded by collected rent, she says.
While Wheels bar and Clark the Locksmith (both of which currently occupy the near-vacant Mercantile) want to stay in the complex, AS220 hopes to get a market-rate tenant to inhabit the bottom floor, possibly an eatery or retail venture.
Since funding restrictions at Empire Street and in the Dreyfus allow an artist in residence to make up to about $26,000, and most of the current living spaces can only accom-modate a single person, AS220 is looking to provide spaces that could house couples or even smaller families. Residence in the new property would set an income cap between $26,000 and $35,000, depending on household size.
“I think it reinforces Providence as a strong arts and cultural mecca,” Searle says, explaining plans to open up the back Martha Street entrance of the complex to give the area more of a pedestrian vibe.