The classic gentrification story goes something like this: Artists discover a derelict urban area and make it cool, word gets out, developers pour money into revitalization, prices escalate, yuppies move in, and the artists end up displaced because they can no longer afford real estate prices in the area.
That’s not what happened at The Village at Sailboat Bend, a redevelopment project in one of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.’s oldest neighborhoods. Not only have artists held their ground in this historic district, they are considered one of its finest assets.
Ensuring their place, however, required a little unorthodox thinking on the part of Lennar Homes, the Broward County Cultural Division, the city of Fort Lauderdale, and Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit specializing in affordable artist housing.
When Lennar first entered the picture, the Sailboat Bend proposal seemed doomed. “The original proposal [for artist housing] had been sitting for eight years because it was not economically feasible,” says Lisa Maxwell, Lennar’s then-director of redevelopment for the South Florida region. “It required a huge amount of public subsidy that no one was interested in funding.” Other for-profit builders had taken a pass, assuming the financing and the politics would prove too much of a headache. The 13.5 acre site had issues of environmental contamination (it included an old military barracks), a protected archaeological area and eco-habitat, a decrepit but historically significant old school building (which could not be razed), and a municipal requirement that 15 percent of the land be set aside as protected park space. Public opposition to higher housing densities was also a factor; any developer brave enough to venture forth would have to defer to the scale of surrounding neighborhoods.
But in the end, the $13 million effort proved an example of perfect symbiosis. Lennar purchased the site in its entirety and then donated an acre of it—complete with easements and infrastructure—to Artspace to create 37 live/work artists’ lofts. With that donated acre came the old West Side School building (circa 1928), which is currently being rehabbed to serve as a new headquarters for the Broward County Historical Commission. A 99-year lease on the building will provide further funding to bankroll construction of the artist lofts.
Meanwhile, the promise of a thriving arts scene helped Lennar secure permits and sell out the 213 market-rate units (condo flats, townhomes, and a sprinkling of single-family homes) through a series of rolling releases, well before the artist lofts even broke ground. “The lofts definitely contributed to the cachet on the market side and helped sell the for-sale units,” says Maxwell. And the city is happy, given the site plan includes a two-acre park with a raised boardwalk to protect old-growth mangroves and the archaeologically significant riverbank.
By the time the art lofts opened in 2008, more than 200 local artists had applied for rental space, and 37 live/work studios were awarded to painters, sculptors, and performance artists making 50 percent to 60 percent of the area median income (no more than $34,800 annually). As part of the vetting process, artist candidates had to demonstrate an established portfolio, business plan, and history of community involvement.
Now a community gathering spot, the three-story, courtyard-style loft building includes shared exhibition spaces on every floor. Live/work units feature 11-foot ceilings, tinted concrete floors, large windows, and open plans that allow artists to decide for themselves which areas they want to designate as studio space versus living space. Gallery openings are held frequently. One painter in residence offers free art therapy classes for kids with autism.
Architect Suria Yaffar, whose firm, Zyscovich Architects, designed the artist lofts as well as the market-rate units, says earmarking resources for arts incubation has proven more beneficial than any pool or clubhouse might have been. “Developers are always trying to define the types of amenities they need to provide. The amenities in this case have become community assets,” she says. “You get a park, a beautiful historic renovated building, you become part of an established historic community, and you have the arts community.”
Maxwell, who has since left home building to parlay her political savvy into developing charter schools, agrees.
“There is a mythology among builders that if things look complicated they need to be avoided because you’re not going to make money on infill projects anyway. Not true,” she says, noting that Lennar’s margins for Sailboat Bend topped 30 percent.
“It’s just that where you have strong no-growth sentiment, the community is exacting in expecting a return—that you are going to leave the place better than you found it.”
Community: The Village at Sailboat Bend
Total acreage: 13.5
Date opened for presales/ leasing: 2003 (market-rate for-sale units); 2008 (affordable rental units)
Product: 213 market-rate townhomes, condo flats, and single-family homes; plus 37 live/work rental lofts (one-, two-, and three-bedroom units, ranging from 930 square feet to 1,700 square feet) for income- qualified artists
Price range: $199,000 to $465,000 (market-rate homes); $500 to $1,000 per month (rental loft units)
Sales to date: Sold out/fully rented
Developers/Builders: Lennar Homes, Miami; and Artspace, Minneapolis
Architect: Zyscovich Architects, Miami
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Miami, FL.