Funding is hiccup for arts incubator in Delray

Posted at 7:21 PM, Jan 21, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-21 19:21:35-05

It's the biggest blank canvas in downtown Delray Beach: the arts warehouse. Plans are gaining steam to turn it into the Arts Cube, but an important deadline is drawing close.

The old building on NE 3rd Street and Artists Alley is empty now. But the Community Redevelopment Agency has designs to turn it into an art incubator, or hub.

It will have two floors of studio space, a exhibition hall to serve as a gallery, a multi-purpose room, offices and a kitchen.

"Giving life to a space no one else would ever think about using," Thuy Shutt explains the redevelopment goal.

She's the CRA's assistant director. She gets excited thinking about the possibilities: Artists opening up studios to the public, teaching classes, collaborating with schools, or other artists.

There's one hiccup before it can all happen: funding.

Shutt says the CRA has set aside $1.3 million to retrofit the empty building into the incubator. The agency is going after a $500,000 grant from the state of Florida. But that leaves a gap of about $1 million needed to complete the project in one phase, which is cheaper than spreading it out.

So the CRA is asking artists, community groups, non-profits to come forward with proposals to use the space. It's formally called a letter of interest.

The CRA is going after artists, or groups, which don't have their own space, or may need space for certain projects, or displays. Each group submits a plan to the CRA where they pay to use the space up front, and move in when it's finished. The money will help bridge the $1 million gap.

"It's one of those instances where government can't do everything alone, so it shows through collaboration you can have the end goals met," Shutt explains.

The deadline for groups to submit letters of interest is Tuesday, January 26. Shutt says her office has received some inquiries, and it's possible it will extend the deadline.

The CRA purchased the warehouse in 2010 for $1 million. Since then, it's spent about $200 each month to maintain the property.

Once the Arts Cube is up and running, the CRA estimates it will be on the hook for about $130,000 each of the first five years, until the project becomes self-sustaining.  Shutt says this is normal in many redevelopment projects.

"I'm not into art," says Johnny, a 9-year Delray resident and taxpayer, who didn't want to give his last name.

He calls the project a bad deal. He'd rather see the money spent on parking solutions for downtown.

He doesn't buy the argument that the project benefits everyone by cleaning up a blighted building and improving property values.

"Nope, that's politics talking," Johnny says.

Shutt argues the Cube will become an anchor, drawing people off Atlantic Avenue and to the smaller shops north of downtown, providing an economic boost.

Cindi Freeburn likes the idea. The Delray resident says the arts are in the DNA of Delray Beach, pointing out artists are usually the first people to step out on a limb and revitalize an area.

"I see it as a worthwhile endeavor for the CRA," she says.

Freeburn envisions local students using the center as a way to supplement the arts curriculum at schools.

The earliest the Cube could open is spring 2017.

For information on submitting a letter of interest to be a part of the Cube, call the CRA at 561-276-8640