Artist group may revive Kaddatz [UPDATED]Published 12:00am Friday, May 12, 2000 Updated 3:58pm Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Artists could soon have a new place to live and work in downtown Fergus Falls, while finally providing a permanent use for one of the city’s historical buildings. The Kaddatz Hotel, vacant for two decades, narrowly escaped the wrecking ball a few years ago. Now, a unique organization called Artspace is interested in transforming the building into apartment and studio space for artists. They have already done it for several old buildings in St. Paul, Minneapolis and around the country, turning dilapidated structures into thriving communities and businesses. A contingent of Fergus Falls representatives toured Artspace’s buildings in the Twin Cities in March, and they came back impressed – and enthused about the possibilities. &uot;That was a great two days, seeing what they have accomplished,&uot; Project 2000 consultant Gene Donley said. He represented the city on the trip, accompanying leaders from the business, arts and historical communities. The group saw a 110-year-old molasses factory that Artspace had transformed into a 52-unit residence full of a variety of artists. They also toured the Schubert Theatre, empty since 1983, on which the organization is beginning renovation work. Some of the buildings Artspace has used, including the Schubert, were in worse shape than the Kaddatz, said Rebecca Peterson of A Center for the Arts. &uot;This is the first time somebody walked in (the Kaddatz) and said, ‘Well, this isn’t so bad. We’ve seen worse than this,’&uot; Peterson said. The Center’s executive director, Peterson was Artspace’s initial contact from Fergus Falls, and she was also along for the trip to the metro area. Artspace representatives visited the Kaddatz this year, getting a sense for what they have to work with. Preservationists have already done some of the most pressing repairs, like fixing a leaky roof and repairing water damage. Other potential developers have been scared off by the condition of the upper floors or the difficulty of making money off housing in a building with only 12 or 13 units. Artspace, however, has dealt with similar problems before, Peterson said. The company typically makes a project financially feasible with a mix of creative financing and shrewd business management. One of the Twin Cities projects was mostly funded by taking advantage of a tax loophole, then selling the tax breaks to a big company. In addition, most of the buildings also include a business venture that helps keep the entire operation in the black. Most common are things like art galleries, restaurants and coffee shops. One building the Fergus group viewed included rented office space for an architectural firm. &uot;They’re really good at pairing together affordable housing and art spaces with businesses that help float the operation of the facility,&uot; Peterson said. Anything from a dance studio to a new restaurant could be in the future for the Kaddatz’s first floor, but nobody has begun seriously pursuing a business yet, Peterson said. Artspace has yet to perform a feasibility study on the old hotel, and they haven’t committed to the project, but they are interested enough to make another visit to Fergus Falls later this month. They will meet with local leaders and interested parties during a series of sessions May 23-24. If Artspace goes ahead with the project, supporters say Fergus will benefit in a number of ways. From the city’s standpoint, the Kaddatz will finally be a contributing member of downtown, and at least part of it will pay taxes. &uot;If they fix it into living quarters, it will certainly create value that will go back on the tax rolls,&uot; Donley said. Preservationists should be satisfied, because Artspace has a reputation for keeping the integrity of historical buildings intact while finding modern uses for them, he said. And the arts community, already strong in Fergus Falls, could grow even more, Peterson said. While many local artists are established enough to own homes, many younger residents, including high school graduates who move away to study art, could potentially be attracted to an artist housing complex. &uot;We know that those folks are looking for affordable places to live,&uot; she said. &uot;I think it would attract artists from across the state.&uot; It could also provide a new focal point for arts in the community. Even with the Center’s success, much of the arts still operate below the rest of the city’s radar, she said. &uot;I don’t think they’re as visible as they could be, just because they don’t have a home,&uot; Peterson said.