Arts-Centered Residential Development Planned For Downtown Urbana

City-owned parking lot in downtown Urbana.

This city-owned parking lot on East Illinois Street in downtown Urbana is slated to become the site of a new arts-centered subsidized housing development, "Urbana Arts".

Jim Meadows/Illinois Public Media

A new four-story development in downtown Urbana would combine the arts with living space. Plans for the $20 million “Urbana Arts” development were announced by the city of Urbana late Wednesday. The project is to be built on a city-owned parking lot (previously single-family homes) on East Illinois Street, just south of Lincoln Square Mall.

Urbana Arts is the brainchild of Brinshore Development, which has built several subsidized and mixed-income residential developments in the area, including Crystal View Townhomes and Highland Green in Urbana, and Douglass Square in Champaign.

Urbana Arts would also feature affordable housing, but with an arts-centered theme. Six of the project’s 44 units would also have studio or gallery space, so that an artist could both live and work there.

The building would also feature an arts and cultural center, which would be programmed by the city of Urbana’s newly reorganized Arts & Culture Commission.

Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin thinks the project would bring more residents to downtown --- and more visitors, too.

 “We see this as complementing everything we do with the Public Arts Program, with the farmer’s market,” said Marlin, “and making the area, of course, more attractive to people who want to visit and patronize the artists and come to the events that are at this site. So it’s contributing toward meeting our goals of activating the site around the Lincoln Square area.”

The Urbana Arts development would include another new residential feature --- nine single-family “tiny homes”, available for rent, are to be built on the site.

Brinshore Development has built similar art-centered developments in Chicago, including the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, located in the Hyde Park neighborhood near the University of Chicago. Another arts-centered development is scheduled to open next year in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood, with a third set to open in 2020 in Flagstaff, Arizona.

Brinshore founding principal Richard Sciortino says Urbana is a good location for an arts-centered development, because of the ability of its Arts & Culture Commission to oversee programs at the planned arts center.

“The hardest part is getting someone to program it so that it’s activated and well-received,” said Sciortino of the arts center. “And most places just do not have that sort of social infrastructure available. And Urbana has that, and they had the need for the space. So it really was a beautiful complement that we provide the space and they could program it and activate it.”

Sciortino says Brinshore will apply for Low Income Tax Credits through the Illinois Housing Development Authority in February. Mayor Marlin say they’ll also be seeking tax incentives for another project, the Urbana Townhomes planned for the Lierman Avenue area in East Urbana. If granted the tax credits, construction on both projects could begin in 2020.

Story source: WILL