Artspace for Woodstock? Council likes concept but balks at spending public dollars

The audience listens to a presentation about Artspace at the Woodstock Opera House Feb. 7, 2024.

Woodstock’s proposed Artspace is on hold while officials figure out how and if they can fund it.

In February, Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that seeks to build affordable housing for artists so they aren’t priced out of their communities, visited Woodstock and determined it’s a good place for the concept.

In Woodstock, Artspace is looking at building about 40 units, and officials are recommending the project go on a property off Short Street, according to city documents. The land would be donated by the city, City Manager Roscoe Stelford said.

Woodstock officials expressed support for the Artspace project, but said they felt the city couldn’t bankroll the roughly $2 million the project is seeking from the community alone. Of that, $800,000 is for pre-construction costs,according to city documents.

“We’re just a little concerned” about committing taxpayer dollars to the plan, Mayor Mike Turner said. He added the entire funding can’t come from city coffers.

Woodstock is also seeking grant money that it intends to earmark for arts-related projects. It has an application, due July 22, for a RISE grant, which comes from the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and is designed to boost economic recovery, according to the state’s website.

The city is eyeing other uses for the potential grant, including to fund more public art or to address unfunded parts of the upcoming Opera House renovation, Stelford said. While city officials plan to get the city council thumbs-up before the grant application is submitted, Stelford confirmed it won’t be for Artspace.

In a lengthy discussion Tuesday about including Artspace in the grant application, city council members indicated they generally like the Artspace concept but balked at the funding of it.

The public entrance for Elgin ArtSpace Lofts, 51 S. Spring St., Elgin, on Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024. The 55-unit, income-eligible apartment building opened in late 2012 in a former Sears and Roebuck store.

Councilmember Bob Seegers said using the grant money for Artspace would be a “horrible return to the taxpayer,” saying the city should spend money only “when it benefits the majority of citizens.” He said the only beneficiaries of the Artspace project would be the people who live there, while the other projects would benefit the entire community.

Councilmember Darrin Flynn also said the city should focus on the other projects. He said he loved the idea of Artspace but expressed concern about the company’s “level of commitment.”

While the project is encountering roadblocks, there’s still some hope it will happen.

“It’s too important to let it go,” said Anne Marie Whitmore Lenzini, who chairs the city’s Arts Commission. “It’s going to happen.”

Turner said he’s “not ready to give up the journey.”

Councilmember Natalie Ziemba was enthusiastic about Artspace.

“It just screams Woodstock,” Ziemba said. “Let’s make it happen.”

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