City Island’s business community is hanging up an “Artists welcome” sign.
It’s pushing a plan to create an artists’ colony along the quaint island’s commercial corridor by creating work/living spaces for artists in some of the 23 currently vacant storefronts on City Island Avenue.
The City Island Chamber of Commerce is pushing the plan, with president Gerard “Skip” Giacco and vice president Paul Klein already reaching out to city agencies to see about how to go about encouraging creating spaces where artists could live, work, and sell what they produce to tourists.
Key to the plan is developing innovative work/live space that complies with the zoning through changes of Certificates of Occupancy or other means, and also creating stable tenants for landlords so that they can collect rent instead of a tax write-off for a vacant store, said Klein.
“We have to talk to landlords and find a way to make it profitable for them,” said Giacco. The city, he said, does not offer specific tax breaks to landlords for the creation of these types of spaces, which exist elsewhere in the city.
With some neighborhoods rapidly gentrifying, many artists have been priced out of their current neighborhoods, said Giacco.
Giacco noted that having an artist who works and lives in the same place would make them a stakeholder in the community, giving them incentives to stay that a business might not have.
It would also help stabilize the commercial strip with another attraction besides restaurants, and would combine the artist’s expenses for rent from where they work and live, benefitting everyone, Giacco added.
“I think if the artist is living there, they also have a greater propensity to stay there,” said Klein. “Let’s say you have a business that is not turning a profit in six months. If you have a business, you get up and leave. If you are living there, then your [personal] rent is a store rent.”
Both think that the idea will be a boon to the area which will increase landlords’ property values.
There is still much to be explored with the idea, said Klein. Certain storefronts might be suitable with minor alterations that are approved by the Department of Buildings, while others may be unsuitable.
With the city floating the idea of changing the new City Island Bridge design from a modern-looking cable-stayed bridge with a 160-foot tall tower to a more modest causeway design, it is a good time to be developing an alternate use for these vacant storefronts, both noted.
“I would love to say four years from now when the new bridge is complete, that we have a new village here, with 80% of the storefronts occupied,” said Giacco.
City Island has a long tradition of welcoming and accommodating artists, with at least one prominent local artist having gotten his start living behind his studio on the avenue in the 1970s, and still living and working on the island, said Klein.
Klein cited the example of the space he rents for his Kaleidoscope Gallery at 280 City Island Avenue, as the type of store that could be retrofitted to a work/live space for artists.
He said that he believes all it would need is a shower, and perhaps another means of egress, and it could be easily be serve as both an apartment, studio and work space.
The next step is for the City Island Chamber of Commerce to poll the landlords to see who would be interested in renting at all, said Klein, as many of the vacant stores are used by their owners for storage, and a few appear to be abandoned.