The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

The South Loop Tries To Get Artsy (Again)

By Camela Furry in Miscellaneous on Jul 7, 2009 2:40PM

Back in 1989 urban planners proposed a plan to develop the South Loop into an arts community that would provide fixed affordable housing for artists alongside studios, galleries, and performance spaces. At the time, a decline in manufacturing and warehousing business in the area north and west of the Chicago River had opened up an abundance of cheap loft space that seemed suited for working artists and galleries.

According to the Tribune, a plan funded by Chicago Central Area Committee stated that roughly a third of the land and buildings in the South Loop area were vacant and pointed out successful arts revitalization in other neighborhoods: “River North and West Loop have demonstrated the power of the arts community to transform a distressed neighborhood image and help stimulate additional commercial and residential development.”

When authors of the plan failed to acquire vacant buildings on Indiana Ave. which were owned by the city, it became evident at the time that the mayor’s office wasn’t behind it and the plan soon after sputtered out.

Fast forward to 2009 and interest in building an arts scene in the South Loop is peaking again. Empty spaces in the neighborhood are plentiful in part because reconstruction efforts have slowed down due to the recession.

Owners of art spaces in the area like Maya-Camille Broussard, co-owner of Three Peas Art Lounge, are hoping the area will become the city’s next gallery district, she told the Tribune, “There’s no true defined art collective here in the sense that Pilsen is known for galleries. The West Loop is known to have galleries…South Loop isn’t”.

But just as commercial and residential redevelopment in River North and West Loop sent rent in those areas soaring, the rent in South Loop is climbing and may prevent many artists and gallery owners just like Broussard from buying space there. Wayne Caplan, a board member of the Chicago Association of Realtors, told the Tribune that gallery spaces are ranging from $18 to $40 per square foot with new construction running $25 to $35.

South Loop gallery owners remain optimistic but the economy will likely determine the success of revitalization efforts. Catherine Edelman, a gallery owner in River North and president of the Art Dealers Association of Chicago told the Tribune: “In the heat of a recession its pretty doubtful that you’re going to see people relocating because that costs a great deal of money." She added, "There has to be a reason for people to migrate and migration happens when people are unhappy with the amount of money they’re paying for square footage, and/or they see something exciting in a new area and they want to join that experience."