Artspace Looks for “Creative Businesses” to Occupy First Floor of Warren Building

By: Tim Moran Last Updated: July 25, 2014

A local milliner, photographer, jeweler and architect were among a number of interested business owners or prospective business owners who may be among the next occupants of the first floor of the Warren Building, which will be designated as a commercial zone when the Artspace project takes shape two years from now.

An informational session on Thursday night at the Lubeznik Center for the Arts focused on the roughly 5,400 square feet of commercial space that will compliment 44 artist lofts in the historic structure in downtown Michigan City.

“We are looking for creative businesses and organizations that are arts-related or compliment our industry well,” said Kim Moore, one of three Artspace representatives present at the meeting. “We want to work with small businesses and artists that are beginning to branch out and grow.”

Five commercial spaces or “bays” are available on the first floor, two larger ones overlooking Franklin Street and three others adjacent to the pedestrian alley north of the building, which will in turn be “an active place where people will interact,” according to Sarah White, director of property development at Artspace.

The annual gross rent for the two Franklin Street bays, which are each just under 1,000 square feet, is $10 a square foot, which translates to about $833 a year in addition to all utility costs. Tenants are responsible for all sewer, water, trash, gas and electric costs, which White said could range anywhere from $200-500.

The remaining three bays come at a cost of $8.50 a square foot per year. The size of these three bays range from 570-664 square feet.

City Planner Craig Phillips said the city and Artspace is “leaning more toward local or small businesses,” adding that there is not much interest in housing chain in these spaces.

White did note these spaces could be divided, or one business could combine the front two for a larger area.

“We are excited to see what businesses land here, there are so many possibilities,” White said.

The business application process would first include sending a letter of interest to Artspace with a concept, then providing a business plan with a budget before securing funding sources and then negotiating a lease and acquiring a business license from the city during the final six months before the building’s revitalization is complete.

The upper floors of the building will be the home of 44 live-work artist studios, which will be anywhere from 500-550 square feet and fully equipped with a kitchen and bedroom.

Moore displayed a PowerPoint presentation that took a look at other Artspace projects that have succeeded in cohabiting artist lofts and successful local businesses. A design studio and gallery in Council Bluffs, Iowa as well as a number of impressive displays at similar projects in Elgin and Waukegan, both cities in northern Illinois, were shown.

“As you can see it is really cool to be in spaces where there are constant exhibits,” Moore said, noting that visits to Elgin and Waukegan to see what’s been done there are available to those interested in commercial spaces at the future Michigan City location.

Phillips said he was impressed when he made a visit to one of the Illinois Artspace facilities.

“It was pretty interesting,” he said. “I saw one sculpture that was made using nothing but computer keys.”

Commercial spaces could also be used to host special events and performances, White added.

Todd Dickard, a Michigan City resident and part-time consultant with the Northwest Indiana Small Business Development Center, said the Northwest ISBDC is a vital source available for helping prospective business owners “find good information to develop a plan and help prepare for financing.”

Kim Ramsey, assistant development director at the Economic Development Corporation of Michigan City, Indiana (EDCMC), said the Northwest ISBDC is a “great resource to work with" for a small business development plan and that the EDCMC would like to be a valuable resource in this endeavor as well.

“We want ideal local businesses that can be successful and sustainable long-term,” she said.

Although the Artspace project, which has been in the works since 2008 and earlier this year received the necessary tax credits from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority (IHCDA) to put the project plans into motion, is still two years away from completion, Ann Dahm, executive director of the Michigan City Area Chamber of Commerce, said the anticipation has already attracted business to the Uptown Arts District.

”Artspace is not going to solve all of Michigan City’s issues, but it is already acting as a catalyst for change,” she said.

Construction on the Warren Building is set to begin later this year or early 2015 by Tonn and Blank Construction, a local company. Residential leasing is expected to begin with informational sessions in the fall of 2015 with the initial application period set to begin shortly after. With construction expected to be completed in early 2016, occupancy could begin in March of that year.