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Paonia will shape its own Space to Create

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Photo by Tamie Meck Value-added agricultural products like culinary lavender, lotions and soaps and wines are among the many creative industries that stand to benefit from the Town of Paonia's participation in the Space to Create Initiative.

When it was publicly announced on Sept. 21 that Paonia will participate in the Space to Create initiative, Margaret Hunt was on hand to help the community understand just what that means.

Space to Create involves grants, but it isn't a grant. "It's an initiative and economic strategy designed to develop affordable housing and work space for the creative sector," explained Hunt, director of Colorado Creative Industries (CCI).

CCI is a state agency within the Governor's Office of Economic Development and International Trade, which advances job creation within the creative industries sector. It is also the designated state arts agency and works with both the non-profit and for-profit sectors.

CCI is also the lead agency in Space to Create. It's like "a matchmaker to help communities find resources to create projects," said Hunt. The Department of Local Affairs Division of Housing, History Colorado and private entities like the Gates and Boettcher foundations are partnering to assist rural communities in advancing projects where people in the creative sector can work and live. What that will look like is up to the community. "It could be a shared studio space, commercial kitchen space, community space for early-childhood education."

The creative sector includes the traditional arts but is broadly defined to include architecture, electronic arts, filmmaking, writing, publishing, newspapers and radio stations, recording studios, or "anything unique that is made by hand or made in the mind," said Hunt.

That sector also includes the culinary arts. With its concentration of growers and producers, "I think is a really big opportunity here in the North Fork Valley and Delta County," said Hunt. It can help "to really further develop the craft foods/small batch food industry, which is part of the creative industry." That includes craft brewers and distillers and producers of value-added foods and beverages "unique and branded to Colorado."

To jumpstart the project, the Town of Paonia will receive a $250,000 grant from the Boettcher Foundation.

The first step is to conduct a feasibility study to determine what might work in Paonia. ArtSpace, a national nonprofit developer that has created some 45 successful projects in 25 states, will work with the community on the study. "ArtSpace has been doing this longer than anyone in the country," said Hunt. All of its projects operate in the black.

Crested Butte and Carbondale were also being considered. In selecting Paonia, the "tipping point" was the community's high concentration of creative individuals and businesses and its desire to diversify the economy through the creative industries. "The unfortunate loss of jobs in the extractive industries, mining, made Paonia a compelling case for us," said Hunt. "We want to help communities that have been negatively impacted by loss of jobs."

The other communities showed incredible promise, said Hunt, and both plan to move forward with projects on their own. According to the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, money from the Carbondale Creative District and a grant from DOLA will fund a needs assessment and market study "for housing creatives." CCI and ArtSpace will work with the community on that study.

Paonia, part of the North Fork Valley Creative District, is the third of eight DOLA region communities selected to participate in Space to Create. The communities already participating in the initiative describe the experience as "transformational," said Hunt.

In 2015, Trinidad was selected as a demonstration project. Like the North Fork Valley, Trinidad is a CCI certified creative district. From a feasibility standpoint, it was a strong candidate. Its main street has the highest concentration of historic buildings in the state, and in 2012 it had 67-percent vacancy rate.

The city raised $2 million in competitive grants through DOLA, saved three historic buildings, and are planning to build 41 affordable public housing units and 20,000 square feet of community space. "Today the vacancy rate is about 29 percent," said Hunt.

Nearby Ridgway was selected in 2016. The town has completed its feasibility/market surveys and has secured property on Clinton Street for project construction, said Hunt. They are now in the scoping process to determine what that project will look like. Experience shows that projects can take up to 10 years to complete. "It's a challenge doing these projects in rural areas that don't have the resources of a metropolitan area," said Hunt.

The Town of Paonia was the applicant for Space to Create. At the Sept. 26 board meeting, trustees approved a restricted account for Space to Create-related activities and appointed a five-member executive team to guide the process. Members include administrator Ken Knight, trustee Barry Pennell, organization development consultant and Downtown Colorado, Inc. North Fork Valley liaison Elaine Brett, North Fork Valley Creative Coalition president Susie Kaldis-Lowe, and Blue Sage Center for the Arts treasurer and town planning commission member Mary Bachran. The town plans to appoint a larger citizens' task force in the future.

Mayor Pro Tempore David Bradford has expressed concern about a perceived discriminatory approach to providing public housing for artists. "I know this doesn't make me popular, but have serious doubts," said Bradford, who voted against the executive team and restricted account.

"It's not discriminatory, it is strategic," and follows state guidelines for public housing, assured Hunt. Because the definition of "creative sector" is so broad, "It qualifies as workforce housing." For example, teachers running after-school arts program could be eligible.

With assistance from ArtSpace the city of Loveland built 30 housing units and space for artists to work. It's helping to transform a formerly neglected section of the city into a thriving community, said Hunt.

In addition, Trinidad was notified in September that it will receive $10 million in low-income tax credits from the Colorado Housing Finance Authority.

"We're really supporting business development," said Hunt. If housing tax credits are used in Paonia, guidelines will be followed. Whether Paonia will include housing as a component of its participation won't be known until feasibility and market surveys are complete." Ultimately, "That is up to the community," said Hunt. The market survey will determine what kind of space the community wants and needs.

Hunt said CCI wants the public to participate, and to voice their concerns. "We want them to share those concerns so that we can address them." Because the feasibility and arts market surveys can take a year or more to complete, "There will be many opportunities to do so."

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