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February 26, 2009
As a working artist, Louis Netter said he's been having trouble finding a decent place in Westchester County to work on his illustrations and animations.
"Most affordable art spaces in Westchester are places shared in people's houses" said Netter, who lives in Yonkers. "Generally speaking, these spaces are not attractive or designed for art."
New Rochelle's Business Improvement District is hoping to address Netter's concern through its new Downtown Artists Spaces Program.
"There are a number of properties in New Rochelle with fairly substantial vacant upper floors," said Ralph DiBart, the BID's executive director. "With the way the economy is now, I wanted to see what we could do to get those spaces filled."
DiBart came up with the idea after working with Peekskill's BID in the early 1990s to implement a similar program. The program works with property owners struggling to find tenants by luring local artists with the incentive of affordable studio spaces. The BID has signed an agreement with Len Shendell, owner of a building at 81 Centre Ave., to open up about 8,000 square feet for art space.
To make rent affordable for the artists, DiBart said, the BID secured about $30,000 in grants from the state Division of Housing and Community Renewal. The money will be used to refurbish the vacant spaces, which will help lower the cost of rent, he said.
He said a typical studio of a few hundred square feet would cost about $350 a month.
"Once we get the artists in there, we'll encourage them to have open studio days and art shows to the public to help liven up the downtown," DiBart said. "This will help encourage more foot traffic to our retail establishments and restaurants."
The BID would like to open up about 20,000 square feet of vacant space in the city to local artists, which DiBart said would accommodate about 20 art spaces. The BID has four applicants for the Centre Avenue space and DiBart said the spaces should be ready by summer.