- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 11, 2002

A Minneapolis developer will begin construction in the fall on an $8 million arts complex in Mount Rainier, the first of several projects designed to use the arts to boost the region's real-estate market.
Artspace Projects Inc. will demolish a row of boarded-up stores in downtown Mount Rainier and replace them with a 44-unit building with live-in studios for artists.
The new building will have retail space on its ground floor and may house a public library. Construction is scheduled to begin this fall and last about one year.
It is the first of four projects that will attempt to use the arts to lure new businesses to the blighted Route 1 corridor in Prince George's County.
"There isn't anyone in the country that is even doing anything close to what they are doing to Prince George's County," said Chris Velasco, director of national advisory services for Artspace, the nonprofit developer spearheading the projects.
Artspace has developed projects in Minneapolis; Portland, Ore.; Galveston, Texas, and other cities. But Prince George's County is their most ambitious, an attempt to build an arts-and-entertainment district virtually from scratch, Mr. Velasco said.
The Route 1 corridor is now home to used-car lots, liquor stores and nail salons.
In addition to the new building in Mount Rainier, Artspace hopes to build live-in studios in Hyattsville and Brentwood. A performance theater and black history museum are planned in North Brentwood.
Hyattsville, with 14,700 residents, is the largest of the four towns.
The four projects should draw art galleries and businesses that serve artists, such as frame shops and art-supply stores, to the towns, Mr. Velasco said.
Eventually, a Bohemian atmosphere will attract a broader range of businesses, such as boutiques and cafes, he said.
The state and federal governments have given the project more than $8 million in loans and grants. Construction on the other projects will occur over the next few years, and will rely on additional public funding, Mr. Velasco said.
The residential projects should qualify for state and federal affordable-housing grants, he said.
The live-in studios in Mount Rainier will range in size from about 825-square-foot efficiencies to 1,800-square-foot, two-bedroom units. The monthly rent is expected to be no more than $700 for the largest units.
"There aren't many places you can get a two-bedroom apartment for $700 a month. Artspace is really committed to making these units affordable," said Nick Francis, executive director of Gateway Community Development Corp., a nonprofit group that promotes revitalization along the border between Maryland and the District.
There is a market for affordable housing for artists along Route 1, said Brooke Kidd, a Mount Rainier choreographer who was elected to that city's council last year.
Downtown Washington artists including painters, sculptors and photographers who are increasingly frustrated with rising rent in the city have already started drifting into the suburbs, she said.
Artspace's Mount Rainier building will set aside 20 percent of its units for Prince George's County-based artists, and 20 percent for artists from outside the county, Mr. Velasco said.
The burgeoning Prince George's County arts district will help the District because it strengthens Washington's reputation as a community that supports artists, said Anne Corbett, executive director of the Cultural Development Corp., a nonprofit group that promotes the arts in the District.
However, Miss Corbett said she envies Prince George's County. "Frankly, I wish the District had taken the lead on this," she said.
Two projects in Washington will set aside apartments and studios for artists. The Mather Building, near the MCI Center, will have 12 units, and the old National Wax Museum will have about 40 units, Miss Corbett said.

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