Historic Middle School Moved Across the River

…not really, but the efforts to develop a building where creative professionals can live and work in Northfield continue.

As some of you may recall, long before the Historic Middle School became vacant, the School Board had set up a Reuse Committee. This group determined that an arts-based reuse of the building would provide the greatest boost to economic development in the community. A Minneapolis-based developer, Artspace Projects, working with a number of local groups and individuals, made an effort to achieve this type of redevelopment. For a variety of reasons, Artspace withdrew and Carleton College decided to buy the property.

The Artspace-driven vision included 22 affordable residential rental units, 10,000 square feet of studio space, plus a possible educational component in 1954 portion and a performing arts component in 1934 portion. The Historic Middle School property became unavailable but the community’s vision lived on.

NDDC Board Member Bardwell Smith then sat down with property owner John Mathern, of Mendota Homes, to talk about developing the community’s vision on one of his properties. John agreed to pursue the concept. NDDC Board Member Brett Reese had previously held discussions with John Mathern about the NDDC being a non-profit partner in one of Mendota Homes’ Northfield projects. The so-called “Arts Building” seemed like a logical candidate.

The property in question is the old Byzantine site. Bounded by 2nd Street on the north, Cannon River on the east, West Bank of Downtown on the South, and Water Street/Highway 3 on the west. (Click image to enlarge.)

The concept, now called The Building for Creative Professionals, as is currently conceived includes 42 residential rental units (half affordable, half market-rate) and 9,000+ square feet of studio space. The residential units include a mix of one, two and three bedroom units. The studios are presently sketched out as 1,500+ square foot shared studios designed for creative professionals with high ceilings, lots of natural light, beefed-up utilities, loading dock, wide hallways and doorways, and plenty of storage space.

The studio spaces are based largely on the output of the 2004 Charette (conducted by the NAG for the Old Middle School) and the finding of a series of (to date) over three dozen 2005 meetings with individual artists and other creative professionals (conducted by NDDC staff and board). The uses most in demand appear to be Digital Media, Printmaking, and Ceramics.

Although there are some ideas on paper concerning the design of the studio spaces, which will no doubt continue to evolve, the operational model for the completed spaces is still being discussed. The spaces are currently being described as shared studios, controlled by 6 to 12 artists (meaning the responsibility for rent costs and the opportunity for access to the facilities) under some kind of cooperatively managed system. It is also expected that there will be some kind of commitment required by the studio cooperatives to regularly scheduled and long-term community programming

The NDDC has three goals for its involvement in the project. First, that the studios be available to all artists and all art groups. No group or individual can have exclusive control or exclude other individuals or groups. Second, the project should make a substantial contribution to economic development in the community. This impact should be experienced beyond the users of the facility. Third, the NDDC seeks long-term community control of the space. If substantial community resources are invested in the project, the product of this investment should remain available to the community.

NDDC staff and board members are continuing to hold meetings with individuals and groups about the design and use of the space. All are encouraged to comment and/or participate.

Preliminary design concepts can be viewed below:
BCPbuildingsite.gif BCPbuildingres.gif BCPbuilding1st.gif
Left: Building site plan; center: residential floor plan; right: 1st floor plan.