© 2000 The Boston Herald
Monday, August 21, 2000

Building for a better future
Fort Point Channel coalition hopes real estate deal can keep artists housed in the district

by Mary Jo Palumbo

They are unlikely contenders in the high-stakes game of waterfront real estate acquisition.

A coalition of Fort Point Channel artists is aggressively attempting to buy warehouse buildings from local developers in the hopes of salvaging the artists' presence in the bustling arts district, which has been threatened by skyrocketing real estate prices in what has become a choice area for developers.

Last month, members of Fort Point Channel arts organizations met with representatives of the Boston real estate development firm Beacon Capital Partners to discuss buying or leasing space.

The artists hope to protect their foothold in the warehouse district, which has been home to artist studios, small nonprofit groups and commercial arts businesses for more than 25 years. The coalition aims to develop complexes of artist-owned lofts as well as office and performance spaces where small arts groups could share resources.

``If our idea really worked, we would have space for the many different arts organizations down here,'' said Anita Lauricella, director of planning at the New England Foundation for the Arts. ``We hope to show (Beacon Capital) that creating artists' live/work space is compatible with the other kinds of development that is being planned down here.''

The Fort Point Cultural Coalition, a collaboration of several arts groups, has submitted written requests to buy or lease one or more buildings from Beacon Capital, which recently acquired 800,000 square feet of space in the Fort Point Channel area from Boston Wharf.

The coalition includes NEFA, Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, the artists collaborative Mobius, the Revolving Museum, the Arts in Business Council and the Arts Services Coalition.

Artist-owned complexes have already been developed in the Fort Point Channel at 249 A St. and 300 Summer St. The Keen Development Co., which designed the Summer Street complex in the early '90s, is teaming with the arts coalition on the new project.

``We are talking to Beacon about a collaborative approach to lease or acquire spaces,'' said Robert Kuehn, president of Keen Development. ``They have been very open to talk, but have not made any commitments.''

The coalition hopes to acquire space near Midway and lower A streets. Last month, artists met with Douglas Mitchell, senior vice president for development at Beacon Capital, to view the 300 Summer St. complex. That building houses three floors of commercial space, 48 artist-owned residential spaces, a restaurant and nonprofit art gallery.

If the plans work out, a new waterfront development could include as many as 300 artists lofts in up to eight buildings in the Fort Point area, said Kuehn.

``The existing buildings are perfect for this,'' he said. ``It will be a shame if this doesn't happen. Artists are a very important part of any city or culture. Unfortunately what happens is that artists move into a neighborhood and make it special place, it gets popular and successful and they get shown the door. The artists in Fort Point Channel need some help here to be part of the future as well as the past.''

Alex McCallum, a spokesman for Beacon Capital, said: ``The planning process for Beacon's property is still in the conceptual stage, but definitive plans should be moving forward more rapidly in the fall. Mitchell has had several meetings with members of arts community there. Obviously this is an expression of Beacon's interest in and support for the artists.''

Timing is critical for many of the arts groups, as leases for the Revolving Museum, NEFA and others expire next year. The Revolving Museum alone houses 30,000 square feet of exhibit, performance and studio space, and is home to more than 50 artists' studios.

``There are some serious displacement issues that are going to happen sooner than people think,'' NEFA's Lauricella said.

The coalition is planning a public arts festival in October in the Fort Point Channel area to raise the visibility of the artists community.

``We are in a precarious situation here,'' said Jerry Beck, artistic director of the Revolving Museum. ``We've got this wonderful committed group doing everything we can to preserve this. We'd hate to be pushed out of town.''

Kuehn expects the group will meet again with Beacon Capital Partners during the Labor Day weekend.

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