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Delray warehouse key in plan to lure artists and boost city's economy

5:27 p.m. EDT, September 6, 2010


In spite of the bare gray brick walls and dim light, the 15,000-square-foot warehouse is reminiscent of a cathedral: A row of cement pillars rise from the concrete floor to sustain the enormous ceiling of what some in this city hope will be an artist incubator.

The Delray Beach Community Redevelopment Agency recently purchased the warehouse, located on Northeast Third Street in Pineapple Grove. And the residents who are betting on its success are members of the Creative City Collaborative — an entity created in 2006 by the City Commission to foster the arts.

"[The warehouse] is a catalyst and something that has potential," said Alyona Ushe, the Creative City Collaborative director and the latest addition to the CRA. "This is the right time and it will serve as an economic engine."

Formed in 2006 by the City Commission, the Collaborative came out of a $50,000 study done by Coletta & Company which detailed the importance of the arts as an economic engine and agent of revitalization. But little has been heard from the group since.

"We stayed together as a volunteer organization," said Nancy Stewart, chairwoman of the group and who organizes events such as the Garlic Fest in February and the St. Patrick's Day Parade in March. "We knew it would be a valuable resource."

Lack of funding for the group's activities left it hanging for a few years but Stewart said the volunteer board has been working behind the scenes since the City Commission created it. She added the time was used wisely to develop the group's bylaws and incorporate as a nonprofit organization.

Then, "The CRA said, we'll get you a staff person and the board will be her boss," Stewart said of Ushe's hiring.

According to Palm Beach County property records, the CRA bought the warehouse in February for $1.1 million.

CRA Executive Director Diane Colonna said the agency had been looking to draw more attention to the city as an arts and culture destination and was already working hard on different economic development initiatives.

"We were aware of other programs in other cities that have that kind of focus," Colonna said.

When the warehouse came up for sale at a lower price, Colonna said it was a good time to invest in the area.

Most of the renovation costs, which won't be determined until the collaborative figures out what to do with the space, would be covered by the CRA, Colonna said. But the Collaborative would have to work on fundraising and applying for grants to run the facility.

"This was something out of our realm in terms of creating and managing an art-related project," Colonna said. "We knew the [Creative City Collaborative] had been having meetings and had recently incorporated into a nonprofit and that's what you want in terms of an agency that can apply for grants."

Meanwhile Ushe, who has been on the job since June, is already cooking up big dreams for the warehouse. She said she hopes to tap into the town's pool of talent to get the project going.

"The idea is to generate foot traffic throughout the day," Ushe said. "Some of the experts have suggested having up to 30 artists in here and having classrooms for all disciplines. There are a lot of models out there and we have to figure out what's going to work here."

Artists would attract other artists, Ushe said, some of whom may become residents, and who would lure visitors to the city's downtown.

"We want this to be a true incubator program that nurtures the artist from day one," she said. "We're making this a very highly competitive process. We want to make sure the best of the best come in."

Ushe said she has been working with local organizations and has already taken a delegation to Washington DC's Capital Fringe Festival. Among them was Joe Gillie, director of Old School Square; Greg Weiss, of the Chamber of Commerce; and Drew Tucker, a musician on the board of Old School Square.

"Everyone is really excited about this," said Ushe, who came from the New Orleans Opera and has worked at performing arts centers in the Washington, D.C., area in addition to founding a theater company there.

She said she envisions an art incubator at the warehouse property similar to the D.C. area's Flashpoint, a creative laboratory for area arts organizations that provides space for performing arts such as dance and theater and studio space for sculptors, painters and other visual artists.

"They transformed that neighborhood completely," Ushe said of Flashpoint. "The area was crime ridden. The real estate has gone up and it has become a live work play area. The vitality that the arts bring has been amazing."

Maria Herrera can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it or 561-243-6644.


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