New art space at Drake and Howe tied to development
While some members of the arts community are praising the addition of 17 artist’s studios to a 41-storey development at Drake and Howe streets, others are expressing concern that the city seems to be relying on developers to create art amenities, rather than helping preserve already established studio space.
On April 16, Vancouver council approved the rezoning for the mixed development at Howe and Drake. The building’s cultural-amenity contribution in the form of studios also includes, for the first time, $850,000 cash from the developer to help cover annual operating costs. That money is expected to cover building maintenance, utilities, security, common-area costs, and insurance for up to 20 years for the studios.
“I’m very much in favour of it [the development],” said Jeffrey Boone, executive director of the Eastside Culture Crawl.
“We normally don’t get this [facility reserve fund] at all,” noted city councillor Heather Deal. “This is very unusual.…This is a large, 325-foot building, and we don’t have that many of them being built.”
But Glenn Alteen, program director of the Grunt Gallery, expressed concern about the future of other artist’s studios in the city if development continues at its current pace.
“These developments, which use the arts in selling themselves to council about what they’re going to do for the arts, are actually destroying more than they’re saving,” he insisted. “We’re in this very weird development where we’re losing real studio space, and what we’re getting is 250-square-foot cubicles that people are being able to rent for $200 or $300 a month. But it’s not realistic in the longterm, because the studio space we’re losing [due to increased rental rates] is actual realistic studio space.”
According to a city staff report, the studios at Drake and Howe are to be rented at a rate of between $1.25 and $1.50 per square foot, inclusive of all costs. Upon their completion, their ownership will be transferred to the city, which will lease them to a nonprofit cultural organization that will, in turn, sublease the studios.
“You could not ask for a better situation, ever,” said Boone. “You couldn’t possibly own and operate that space at that cost [on your own]. It’s enormously subsidized, which is fantastic. It gives the owner-operator of that space time to figure out the business model that will keep it sustainable once this fund gets depleted.”
As for critics like Alteen, who argue that art space gained through development ultimately drives up the cost of surrounding studios, Boone noted the new units would be owned by the City of Vancouver, rather than a developer.
Boone said the City of Vancouver’s cultural-services department is “bending over backwards…to make sure that the status quo is maintained and that it will encourage artist studio space”.