Alan Ziter’s been in San Diego long enough to see the process play out in neighborhoods across the city: Artists move into an affordable neighborhood, making it cool and eventually, unaffordable. He wanted to stop it in its tracks and find a place where San Diego’s arts community could put down solid roots.
That’s why he helped create Arts District Liberty Station – a cultural community within a collection of old homogenous city-owned military buildings in a high-priced coastal community – perhaps the last place an arts district would pop up on its own.
The arts district was envisioned as a place where artists could thrive without worrying about being pushed out. But a decade after its launch, arts tenants are finding themselves in the same spot the district was meant to insulate them from: Rents there are too high for many artists and cultural nonprofits to afford.
The Root of the Problem
When the Naval Training Center in Point Loma closed in 1997, Ziter and other arts leaders saw a huge opportunity.
“All the sudden these buildings were coming available,” he said. “And the one thing I knew was that all our arts groups and artists needed was space.”
City leaders held dozens of community meetings to gather input and figure out what to do with the 361-acre campus. They put together a land use plan and turned most of the property over to local developers The Corky McMillin Cos.
We Stand Up for You. Will You Stand Up for Us?
Great article summarizing the current situation at Liberty Station and a bit of its history. Ziter has done a great job with what he was handed in administration. According to your article, "The foundation did get tax credits and some donations, but the majority of the funding was through conventional financing." I am wondering if anyone at the Foundation has looked into re-financing the conventional loans and has contacted the County Supervisors about ways to lower the tax base with the County. I can imagine that Interest rates are much lower now than when they were first taken out . Even if loans were taken out at different times, perhaps they could be consolidated at a lower rate now. This is a typical business practice.
@Jennifer Spencer Thanks for the comments. It's hard to believe we were working 30 years ago on many of the same challenges facing the arts. In response to your suggestions, without going into too much detail, our very financially astute CFO and board have done or are in the processing of doing much of what you suggested. A lot of it depends on the timing on the New Market/Historic Tax Credit deals and when they "unwind."
How many buildings are left to be renovated? A 97% occupancy rate suggests the tenants might be willing and able to pay a little more into the renovation fund.
I'm an artist and writer who loves Liberty Station. The beige buildings don't bother me a bit - in fact, I'd hate to see garish colors and designs splashed all over those buildings. There's a sweet surprise about going inside to see all the creativity going on. That said, I can't afford a studio. It's just out of my price range.
San Diego seems quite good at creating situations where too much goes into managing/developing property and not enough into best use of the property. San Diego is really out of balance (I speak not as a writer or artist now but as an organizational consultant who has been getting an eye and ear full watching what happens here).
One thought for Liberty Station is to pick up the art school idea for working artists - a larger communal space where artists can come and go, rent their little piece, so to speak, but not pay monthly rent for a studio one artist uses on a hit or miss basis. I'm just talking off the top of my head. But I do agree that space for artists in San Diego just doesn't exist, especially for single artists without a partner or backup to help meet expenses.
For now, my little studio apartment serves as an "art/writing studio with a bed." It is what it is.