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Work that space: Resources for Penn Avenue building ownership

In the past decade, the vacancy rate along Penn Avenue has gone down from 45 percent to around 20 percent. About $58 million has been invested into the area over that time. And, currently, about 20 percent of the space is occupied by artists or arts-sympathetic users, like the Quiet Storm, that complement the Penn Avenue Arts Initiative's goal of reviving the 10-block business corridor through arts-based economic development.

"There are opportunities for building ownership and for leasing along Penn Avenue," says Matthew Galluzzo, arts district manager with Friendship Development Associates (FDA). "Two and three-story spaces ranging from 2,000 to 3,000 square feet are abundant across the region in little mill towns and urban neighborhoods, but Penn Avenue has additional incentives at our disposal for arts-based users."

FDA's strategy of buying buildings and selling them to artists at discounted prices--and providing additional tools to help them succeed--is "an innovation we started that is now a national model," says Galluzzo. Some of those tools include grants for facade renovations, and inclusion in the monthly Unblurred gallery crawl, which increases public awareness and can offset an individual organization or artist's marketing budget.

Another of those tools is the annual Building Ownership Workshop, which generally attracts about 25 to 35 participants, and has directly resulted in at least one building being renovated each year for the past eight or nine years.

The event "demystifies the process of owning and rehabbing a building on Penn Avenue," says Galluzzo. "It helps artists understand this is a real estate development project, and not just a romantic notion about being an artist, doing cool stuff in a cool space. Though that's part of it."

The workshop presents participants with the chance to sit down and talk with architects, business development specialists, FDA staff and artists who have gone through the process of purchasing and rehabbing buildings along Penn Avenue. Programs that will be reviewed at this year's workshop include Artist Loan and Grant Fund (through Penn Avenue Arts Initiative), Small Business Program (through URA), FDA's Business Assistance, REN-Program (through Community Design Center of Pittsburgh), Small Business Development Assistance (through University of Pittsburgh Small Business Development Center), Housing Recovery Program (through URA) and various conventional lending products.

This year's Building Ownership Workshop occurs Thurs., Nov. 19 at 6 p.m. at EDGE studio, 5411 Penn Ave.

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Writer: Caralyn Green
Source: Matthew Galluzzo, arts district manager with Friendship Development Associates

Image courtesy of Friendship Development Associates

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