Starving artists wanted on South Side

By John Lendman

Seeking to cultivate a thriving artists community on Chicago’s South Side, the city of Chicago and acclaimed developer Andres Schcolnik are teaming up to create affordable condominium lofts designed specifically for artists to live and work in.

The Strand Artists Lofts, 6315 S. Cottage Grove Ave., set to be completed by fall 2009, plans to screen applicants with help from the Department of Cultural Affairs to ensure buyers’ commitment to the artists community. In addition, subsidies provided by the Department of Housing offer the lofts, ranging from 960-1060 square feet, for as low as $155,000.

The idea of developing an artists community in the economically depressed neighborhood of Woodlawn came from the mayor’s office, Schcolnik said. Artists attract texture and vibrancy that in turn bring affluence and investment, he said.

“The Strand had been [on] my radar for many years,” Schcolnik said. “My ambition is to restore that neck of the woods. I am very committed to Woodlawn.”

Schcolnik, a member of Preservation Chicago, has been rehabbing properties on the South Side for more than 10 years. He said he is dedicated to maintaining the Strand’s 1920s architectural elements and charm much like he did with the neighboring Grand Ballroom, 6351 S. Cottage Grove Ave.

Formerly known as The Strand Hotel, The Strand housed a celebrated nightclub where many famous jazz musicians used to play, he said.

The Strand’s developers are taking careful consideration to interview and screen potential loft owners. Ideal candidates will be able to show they can benefit from and contribute to an artists community, said Department of Cultural Affairs planner Barbara Koenen.

Koenen, who is also the Director of the Chicago Artist’s Resource, which seeks to be a resource to Chicago artists, said applicants will have to demonstrate their community commitment in an informal interview discussing their work samples as well as their history of exhibitions, shows and performances of various media.

“We want to know how [buyers] would capitalize on being in the proximity of other artists,” she said. “My goal is for it to become a very vibrant, thriving community that’s committed to keeping an artist’s identity and infiltrating that part of the city.”

Koenen said she hopes the success of the Strand will mimic that of the West Side’s Switching Station Artist Lofts, 15 S. Homan Ave. The artists community of rental lofts, which opened in 2003 in the Garfield Park neighborhood, was developed by Artspace in a rehabbed telephone switching station.

Artists there collaborated with their neighbors in multiple exhibitions, concerts and festivals and thrived in the West Side community, she said.

“When [artists] are under the same roof … you find out about other opportunities that are happening and you create opportunities yourself,” she said.

The developers are also seeking artists who are in need of affordable housing, Department of Housing spokesperson Ted Dygus said. The New Homes for Chicago program will offer subsidies to condo owners based on their annual income and require applicants to attend Home Buyer Certification Workshops and a condominium training session.

The workshops target first-time homeowners and will teach buyers about the responsibilities of a mortgage, to learn whether they are ready to buy a home as well as how to budget and save money, Dygus said.

If the Strand achieves historic landmark status, real estate taxes for the first eight years will be waived for condo owners, but the building is currently under review by The National Registrar of Historic Places, Schcolnik said.

Deeply Rooted Productions, a dance and theater production studio, plans on purchasing a portion of the Strand’s commercial space, Schcolnik said, describing the studio as a potential “lightning rod” for the Woodlawn community.

Kevin Iega Jeff, the artistic producer and director of Deeply Rooted Productions, plans to buy a loft in the Strand as well. He said he was drawn to its location, which is near the University of Chicago’s planned Logan Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, 5801 S. Ellis Ave., set to open in 2011.

“Artists often lead in the development of areas,” Jeff said. “It’s great to be a part of a community that has a dedicated focus on artists-that is very significant.”

The Strand Artists Lofts will host an artists community meeting for inquiries at 11 a.m. on Sept. 6 the Grand Ballroom, 6351 S. Cottage Grove Ave.