Three of Northeast’s stalwart arts district couples are teaming up as the city of Minneapolis’ staff choice to repurpose a long-decaying commercial corner. Assuming all goes well dealing with yet-unknown factors, 695-699 Lowry Ave. NE will be the new home of Clay Squared to Infinity and Potekglass.
The property is now in Hennepin County’s hands. It would be conveyed on the same day to the city, then to the new entity that is a partnership between Clay Squared to Infinity and Potek Glass (Josh Blanc, Layl McDill, Malcom Potek and Kara van Wyk). The California Building Company, owned by John Kremer and Jennifer Young, will act as fee developer for the entire project, taking the project from City RFP process to redeveloped, fully leased and managed on behalf of the new owner/end users. It’s anticipated the businesses could be operating there by fall of 2018.
They plan to keep the upstairs apartment (second floor of the corner building) as a residential rental. The entrance would be cut back from the corner. The rest of the space, which includes somewhat centrally-located rest rooms, would become the art production space (4,000 square feet per business) and 4,000 square feet that could be rented to other producing artists. “There will be more large windows installed all around the outside of the building so the public can see artists making work and feel invited to stop in and visit the artist studios,” Blanc told the Northeaster. “The goal is to have an arts building with a retail/food related presence in the corner.”
All introduced themselves at a Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association general meeting March 9. Kremer and Young own three art buildings, California Building, Casket Arts and the Carriage House and Factory at Casket Arts, and redeveloped the commercial buildings known as the OddFellows (home to Bulldog NE, 401 E Hennepin) and the Garland Building (home to GingerHop and Honey, 201 E Hennepin). Young served as president of the Bottineau Neighborhood Association for many years and said “we are thrilled to make another artist owned building.”
Kremer said, “This is perfect as maker spaces. It’s lucky we can save this one, you get an arts district that goes back 25 years” with arts as an economic driver, “and artists can now own.” He explained that work will be needed on the outside, new roof and windows. “There will be some noise, some dumpsters,” during the process, most likely put on the Howard Street side where eventually they may be able to have storm-water retention on a site that is mostly covered by building.
Josh Blanc of Clay Squared to Infinity reviewed their history, starting in an attic studio in their duplex, then locating on Central Avenue, and now 12 years in the Keg House. Going on 20 years in business this year, they’ve made clay tile for residential kitchens and baths, the Eastside Food Co-op bathrooms, and even some tile for the State Capitol renovation.
Layl McDill, the “to Infinity” part of the team, works in polymer clay, presenting classes in the art and selling at art fairs all around the region and country. “We have wanted to become owners of space. We’ve made a lot of tries, and we’re getting there.” She invited people to “come see us, come play with us.” The current location at 34 13th Ave. NE includes a small classroom, production space, and a retail showroom featuring their work and other tile makers’ products.
Malcolm Potek said he’s been in the glass business 25 years, starting his Northeast career in their garage in 1999 with a small house in Bottineau and now “the best art studio in Minneapolis which will be coming up for rent.” (It’s on the 6th floor of the California Building where they will stay until the new building is ready.) “I’ll miss that space, but want to own.”
Potekglass does lighting projects on commission (at the Ritz Theater, for example). They’ve done community art projects with Northeast Middle, Waite Park, and Jenny Lind schools, and at three blocks away from Edison, see potential to bring people in.
Kara van Wyk, art teacher at Webster School, said she brings the knowledge of grade-level-appropriate curriculum to their business. “I believe art will save the world,” she smiled.
Rebecca Parrell, the city’s staff person shepherding the process, said at the end of March the staff recommendation will work its way through the city council. The proposers will be doing their due diligence, getting renovation bids and analyzing the site further for pollutants that are likely there, and how to remedy that. Assuming all goes well (“there are often surprises”) she’ll return to the council in summer for the land sale contract and the county transfer.
A resident asked about parking demand. The daily users of the space, Potek and Blanc, said they all live close by and tend not to use cars to get to work, but as Kremer pointed out there will likely be cars parking in the neighborhood during classes and if there’s a coffee shop or other high-use retail. Parrell said there would be a parking review.
It was noted that all the anticipated uses fit within current “C-1” zoning, and that Holland’s Small Area Plan calls for “respectfully transitioning from residences to businesses.”
One resident said she’s “super stoked about this.” There were other supportive comments and animated conversation afterward.
First Ward Council Member Kevin Reich, a former Holland neighborhood staffer, lauded the proposal, calling it a “big deal for the Arts District” since Lowry doesn’t now “hold up its border at the northern frontier” of the district. “The school connection will happen.”
Tammy Shaw, who lives near Edison, said it will benefit Central Avenue to have more businesses owning their space. This property, at Monroe Street, is just three blocks off Central.
The Northeaster has learned that the city staff chose to recommend this over two other proposals, one from Northeast Investment Cooperative and one from a developer who would have demolished the buildings and put up a multi-story apartment building.
Below: Sketch by Kara van Wyk, of the 695-699 Lowry Avenue NE buildings as renovated.