Will the Arts District Finally Feature, Well, Artists?

Whenever I used to vent to former Arts District executive director Veletta Lill about all the things that frustrate me about the Arts District — its shortage of residences, its orientation towards the high end of the market, its one-dimensional character as a depot for imported art and performances — Lill would remind me that the Arts District as it stands today is only 25 years into a 50-year vision. The things that make a neighborhood a neighborhood (people of all walks of life, services, booze and coffee) will come, she promised optimistically.

Regarding that future vision, Lill always singled-out the parking lot adjacent to Museum Tower as key component in the overall Arts District build-out. Now it looks like the spot could be the location of the most significant development on Flora Street since Rem Koolhaus and Joshua Prince-Ramus decided to perpetually torture any Dallas theater lover with weak knees. Curious what’s going on? Jump.

Yesterday, The City Council’s Housing Committee endorsed a proposal by La Reunion TX (a long active artists residency that, curiously, could never get its residency built-out) for $1.1 million in low-income housing grants that would go towards developing artist housing on that parking lot next to Museum Tower and across from the Nasher.  Called Flora Lofts, the plan is to add 39 affordable housing units, renting for $360 to $790 each, as well as eight penthouse units priced at market rates (about $1.75 per square foot, the paper says, which actually sounds soft if you look at what prices are across the street). Residents would need to apply and meet certain income standards to live in the development.

The project is by no means a done deal. The proposal needs to pass the city council before being forwarded on to the state where it will compete with other applications for affordable housing funding from around Texas. And you can imagine how an artist project in the fancy, schmancy Arts District will look compared to low income projects in economically-challenged parts of Texas. My hope is the state will see just how forward-thinking this project actually is in terms of diversifying a community and realizing the intended goals of a massive civic investment.

But there’s another obstacle. The state will evaluate the proposals based on a variety of criteria, including neighborhood response to the project. The arts organizations in the Arts District are on board with Flora Lofts, but there is no word on whether Museum Tower supports the project. Will Museum Tower oppose a low income housing development on their doorstep? After all, as the DMN story points out, Flora Lofts is seeking $1 million, while Museum Tower is listing condos with a price tag of $1 million.

It’s another test for the condo high-rise still locked in a bitter dispute with the Nasher Sculpture Center. Are Museum Tower’s owners really an Arts District neighbor, or are they just milking our city’s public investment in the arts in order to take advantage of how the veneer of culture bolsters property values?