Innovative Artist Housing will be Part of KC Neighborhood Revival

By Lynn Horsley | | December 27, 2016

DRAW Architecture + Urban Design
Rendering of Pendleton ArtsBlock, which will take up a block of Independence Avenue between Park Avenue and Olive Street. There will be spaces for families and for artists, and the first floor will have common spaces for artists to work in.

Kansas City artists being priced out of the gentrifying Crossroads and West Bottoms districts could find a more affordable option in 2018, with a project aimed at making the historic Northeast a new arts hub.

The so-called Pendleton ArtsBlock will be developed on Independence Avenue by Illinois-based Brinshore and will be modeled on Brinshore’s successful Dorchester artist-centered residential community in Chicago.

It’s dubbed an “arts block” because the 38-unit building will span an entire block from Park Avenue to Olive Street. The multistory building will house artists as well as families, but the first floor will have common spaces for artists to work in, as well as retail spaces to promote the business of art.

“All of the 38 units were designed with artists in mind, with input from the artist community,” Brinshore CEO David Brint said, adding that open floor plans will provide attractive and functional live/work spaces for artist residents.

“The Independence Avenue corridor is a fascinating opportunity for commercial development,” said Renée Cinderhouse, a historic Northeast resident, sculptor and installation artist who helped advise Brinshore on apartment designs that would serve as both homes and artist work studios.

Cinderhouse moved in 2008 from the West Bottoms to a Pendleton Heights home, along with a growing number of artists attracted to the ethnically rich and more affordable Independence Avenue neighborhoods. But the area still struggles with blight, crime and underdevelopment, so Cinderhouse and others see the arts as a potential catalyst for progress.

The ArtsBlock is just one of three crucial residential projects east of downtown that received tax credit approval in early December from the Missouri Housing Development Commission. All three buildings — the ArtsBlock, plus a townhome project and an apartment building — will together have 117 units. Construction should start next summer and take about a year.

That will help provide replacement housing for residents of the outdated Chouteau Courts low-income housing complex just northwest of Independence Avenue and the Paseo.

A third of the units are for Chouteau Courts residents, but a third will be affordable housing for other tenants, and a third will be market rate, creating a mixed-income community.

Part of the funding will come from a highly competitive $30 million federal housing grant that the Kansas City Housing Authority and Kansas City municipal government were awarded in September 2015. The grant was designed not just to replace Chouteau Courts but also to transform the surrounding area in what’s now being dubbed the Paseo Gateway district.

“We were super excited to get the (tax credit) news,” said Jessica Ray, president of the Pendleton Heights Neighborhood Association, which will have the ArtsBlock building in its boundaries. “We think this project will do amazing things for the neighborhood.”

The artist housing idea grew out of suggestions from Ray, Cinderhouse and other Pendleton Heights residents in Northeast Kansas City.

Brint said neighbors wanted an arts emphasis, which led Brinshore to adopt a concept it had already used in 2014 for Dorchester, a collaboration that renovated a vacant, downtrodden public housing project in Chicago.

Dorchester is a 32-unit, mixed-income rental development, with seven artists living there and multiple other tenants and families. The programming connects practicing artist volunteers with residents and provides a dance center that’s the focal point for a burgeoning arts district.

The mix of tenants from different economic levels “works better than we anticipated,” said Jon Veal, communications and outreach assistant with the Rebuild Foundation, which provides the arts programming for Dorchester.

The boarded-up housing project had squatters and was nicknamed “the murder pocket” before it was completely renovated in 2014, Veal said.

“We’ve seen a complete turnaround,” he said. “We really believe that artists change the world.”

Ray said the historic Northeast and its artists requested something innovative and decided the Dorchester model met that bill for the new ArtsBlock.

“It’ll be a really creative place and a cool opportunity for kids who live there,” she said.

One creative partner in the concept will be Kansas City’s Charlotte Street Foundation, which nurtures and cultivates area artists.

Charlotte Street Foundation executive/artistic director Amy Kligman emphasizes that the ArtsBlock concept is still in its early stages, and much more planning needs to occur.

“One of the parts that’s pretty critical is working with individuals in the neighborhood to develop the appropriate answer for what will be happening in the arts space, retail spaces,” she said. “We don’t want people to say we’re presupposing the answer.”

Kligman agreed that, as other parts of downtown mature and get more expensive, the historic Northeast could be attractive to artists, especially…

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