Within five years, Ridgway could have 20 new apartments available for rents between $400 and $1,000, located about two blocks away from the town park. The affordable-housing development moved one step closer to reality with the Aug. 23 announcement of the town’s selection as a Space to Create project location.

The state launched the Space to Create Initiative last year to help rural areas develop housing options for artists as a way of supporting local economies. Ridgway was selected as the second project over other candidates like Mancos as the location for the southwest region, which consists of Ouray, San Miguel, Montrose, San Juan, Dolores, La Plata and Montezuma counties.

Though studies need to be conducted over the next 10 months to determine the size and cost of the local development, Ridgway Town Councilor Robb Austin said the town hopes 20-30 apartments can be built within three to five years. The tentative site is property on the northwest corner of Clinton and Laura streets, which is being used as a temporary public parking lot during the RAMP Up street-improvement project. 

“The property was selected for its size and location primarily,” said Town Manager Jen Coates. “We do not know the cost or size or target rents yet — we have to complete the feasibility first. We also won’t be able to affirm the developer or project details until we get through the feasibility phase.”

The three-part feasibility study includes a community engagement survey and meetings at the end of September, followed by an arts market survey and housing market study. Artspace, a Minnesota-based nonprofit real estate developer, is the state’s lead consultant on the Space to Create Initiative and will be assisting the town with the study phase. The company, which owns and operates 40 similar projects around the nation, has not yet been selected as the developer or owner of the Ridgway project.

Project financing will come from a variety of sources, including the housing division of the state’s Department of Local Affairs, other state agencies, federal and local sources, and philanthropic organizations such as the Boettcher Foundation, which has already contributed funding to the project. 

The Space to Create development in Trinidad, the first location selected by the state, chose Artspace as its developer/owner and is currently arranging financing. “With other Artspace project financials that I have looked at, I have seen every possible financing structure depending on what each was successful in getting from the federal, state and local sources first,” said Margaret Hunt, director of public policy and creative districts for the Colorado Creative Industries division.

Trinidad’s project is expected to cost $15 million and will build 20 live-work apartments each with their own studio space plus an approximately 15,000-square-foot public space for the arts community in three historic buildings in downtown Trinidad, said Wendy Holmes, senior vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships for Artspace.

“We definitely hire expertise locally. Particularly local contractors and engineers are important. In Trinidad, for instance, we used companies from Pueblo nearby. For Ridgway, we could hire from there as well as Montrose (and other close towns), which we consider local,” Holmes added.

The other Artspace development in Colorado is in Loveland, but was not part of the state’s initiative. The majority of the project’s financing, 56 percent, came from Low Income Housing Tax Credits, with an additional 19 percent from public sources including state and local governments. Nine percent of financing was from a bank loan, with the final 16 percent from philanthropic gifts.

With 30 units, the development includes studio apartments and one-, two- and three-bedroom units, with rents ranging from $386 to $1,146. Due to LIHTC requirements, the rents must be affordable for people who earn at or below 60 percent of the local area median income, and Holmes said Artspace targets between 30 percent and 60 percent.

According to the online Rent & Income Calculator by Novogradac & Company LLP, the maximum qualifying rental rates for Ouray County would be $778 for studios, $834 for one-bedroom units, $1,000 for two bedrooms and $1,156 for three bedrooms.

While the intention for Space to Create is to provide housing for artists, the term “artist” broadly comprises a wide variety of creative pursuits, including traditional art forms and those as diverse as clothing design, weaving and even canoe-making, according to a Ridgway flyer about the project. Couples and families also will be considered as residents, not just single artists. With other Artspace housing, a community-based selection committee reviews all applicants to choose who qualifies to move in.

More local affordable housing news

“Housing Our Community: A Public Forum,” hosted by the Ridgway-Ouray Community Council and the Ouray County Housing Authority, will be at Ridgway Town Hall on Wednesday, Sept. 21, with refreshments beginning at 6:30 p.m. followed by the forum at 7 p.m. For information, go to roccnet.org