Art Reprieve?

Two new studies have Warehouse District tenants feeling cautiously optimistic

Long after the Arizona Department of Transportation's initial eviction date, the tenants of downtown's Steinfeld and Z warehouses may finally be facing crunch time.

But their ultimate fate remains undecided.

"I've been a nervous wreck for six months," confesses Charles Alexander of Chax Press, one of the artists who occupies the ADOT-owned, 100-year-old Steinfeld building. They were given a 77-day eviction notice last November, an ultimatum which has been pushed back twice (See "Warehouse District, R.I.P.?" Nov. 23, 2006, and "Artists Up in the Air," Dec. 14, 2006).

"I'd like the city of Tucson to acquire the building and work with the tenants to bring it up to code," Alexander says.

The hope of rehabilitating the Steinfeld Warehouse for use by the present tenants is echoed by both Jon Ryan of the Alamo Woodworkers Cooperative and artist David Aguirre, who is also the master leaseholder on the Steinfeld building.

City Councilman Steve Leal agrees with their view, saying the costs of relocating artists and interim rent payments would be better put toward stabilizing the building.

"I prefer pursuing keeping them there ... because if they're out, the city will do its best to put the building in private hands, and then real-world costs come into play, and the artists will never get back in," Leal says.

As a member of the Council's Rio Nuevo/Downtown Arts, Culture and History Subcommittee, Leal will have the chance to discuss his position at a meeting on May 17.

Councilwoman Nina Trasoff, who chairs the subcommittee, hopes the meeting can be about more than just the Steinfeld tenants. "How do we put all the (downtown arts) pieces together?" she wonders.

About the meeting, Aguirre says: "I'm interested in a dialogue with city officials, not being dictated to. We artists know our needs; the city doesn't without consulting us. I favor much more dialogue."

Two new studies released last week will be topics of discussion for subcommittee members.

The first deals with the Steinfeld Warehouse and focuses on the cost of rehabilitating the building. Submitted by Poster Frost Associates, the report suggests major structural repairs can be made to the warehouse for just more than $1 million, while another $400,000 would be needed for nonstructural items such as a cooling system. Plus, the report concludes: "Replacement cost for a good quality building of comparable size is roughly $5-$6 million."

Alexander isn't deterred. "We (the Steinfeld tenants) might be able to handle one half that with low-interest loans," he says, hoping City Hall will pick up the balance.

The Poster Frost report also states that most of the required rehabilitation work can be accomplished without having to move the tenants.

Alamo's Ryan hopes those in the building can stay put. If the tenants have to vacate for an extended period of time, he thinks the woodworkers' cooperative might split up. "There's a possibility we'd have to go our separate ways," Ryan warns. "That would be sad, since we've been an institution for 20 years."

Trasoff says she is "thrilled" by the conclusions of the report. "If it's at all possible to keep them in the building, I support that. The question is: Can we do it realistically and find the funding?"

But Trasoff adds: "I'm hoping we can work with our colleagues at the state for the smoothest possible transition (of the Steinfeld Warehouse) from the state to the city."

The other new report, by Tierra Right of Way Services, estimates it will cost between $235,000 and $280,000 to permanently relocate the Steinfeld tenants out of the building, if that's necessary.

While listing numerous possible downtown locations to house the artists, the Tierra report emphasizes two sites, since both can supply the 18,000 square feet now occupied in the Steinfeld building. A large structure at 18th Street and Park Avenue is the first possibility, one which Aguirre calls "an interesting site."

The other option is the building at 55 N. Sixth Ave. now leased by the group Art Fare. This space has been the center of controversy since Trasoff's apparent efforts to have the city subsidize Art Fare's purchase of the property were derailed at a recent City Council meeting.

Meanwhile, ADOT is waiting for the results of the May 17 meeting before it takes any further steps in establishing a new deadline for the Steinfeld tenants to move.

Neither of the two recent studies looked at the Z Warehouse on Stone Avenue, which was also ordered emptied by ADOT. Lou Ginsberg, real estate special projects manager for the city, explains that is because Zee Haag has expressed an interest in buying the building.

A recent ADOT appraisal showed the warehouse to be valued at $230,000, but city officials say Zee may also want to purchase the two state-owned properties immediately east of his building. Appraisals on those structures are still underway.

Zee is excited about what could happen if he can acquire his warehouse.

"We're hoping to carry on with what we've been doing," he says of his mineral showroom, "but way better. ... Everything will go way up once we invest in this building."

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