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Artists colony eases rules

TribTown • Buyers don't have to prove their cred for Montavilla units
by: ANNI TRACY, Guests walk through the model condo unit at Milepost 5 during its “Self Projections” event Friday night. The live-work development for artists is dropping the requirement that prospective buyers have the seriousness of their art judged by a panel.

You no longer have to prove you are a serious artist to live at Milepost 5, the planned artists colony about to open at Northeast 81st Avenue and Oregon Street.

When plans for the affordable housing and workspace development were announced last summer, they specified that a panel including professional artists would judge potential tenants to ensure they were serious about their artistic pursuits.

The goal was to create an environment where artists would live, work and play among peers - allowing all of them to further refine their visions and skills.

But with 54 condominiums nearly ready for sale, the requirement has been dropped.

Ted Gilbert, the developer who helped spearhead the project, said there have been no problems finding serious artists who want to live at Milepost 5.

'Everyone who's applied so far has been an artist,' Gilbert said. 'They include painters, filmmakers, even a dancer.'

Nor has the turmoil in the mortgage market reduced the number of potential buyers - at least not yet. The project plans to begin closing sales this week. So far, 20 of the units have been reserved, a number Gilbert considers good, given the economy.

'A lot of condominium projects would be glad to have 30 percent of their units reserved before they start selling them these days,' he said.

Gilbert expects the prices to soon attract many other buyers. They are selling for prices ranging from $105,000 to $340,000, with most under $190,000. Grant programs are available to provide potential first-time home buyers with $2,500 toward their down payments, depending on their income levels.

Gilbert said the requirement was dropped because the project is meeting its goal of attracting serious artists without it.

'Why make people jump through hoops if they don't have to?' he asked.

But just to make sure that Milepost 5 continues to attract artists, the project recently hired local artist and arts administrator Gavin Shettler as its creative director.

Shettler co-founded and ran the Portland Art Center for five years before fundraising problems forced it to close its Old Town exhibition space last winter. Now he intends to make sure that Milepost 5 remains an affordable and permanent arts campus.

'In the past, developers have used artists to promote their projects, then raised their rents and forced the artists out,' he said. 'Here we have an opportunity to make sure that artists are never priced out of their homes.'

The art gets a start

To help promote the project within the Portland arts community, Shettler has already organized the first large-scale exhibit at Milepost 5.

Curated by artist Gary Wiseman, it's called 'Self Projections' and opened last Friday with video and other works by 19 artists displayed in the project's vacant ground-floor condos. The show can be viewed from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. through Sunday.

The community-building effort is just what Gilbert had in mind when he started thinking about developing an artists colony a few years ago.

Gilbert was in a unique position to make it happen. For starters, he is the president of a for-profit real estate company, Gilbert Bros. Commercial Brokerage Co.

He also chairs two nonprofit affordable housing organizations - HOST Development Inc., which builds and sells affordable homes, and the Portland Affordable Housing Preservation Trust, which preserves inexpensive rentals.

As part of his nonprofit work, Gilbert had toured the former Baptist Manor retirement home in the Montavilla neighborhood. Although the nonprofit that ran it had gone out business, it was very well-preserved.

After talking to a number of people, including city Commissioner Sam Adams, about the need for affordable live-work space for artists, Gilbert persuaded the two nonprofits to team up with Brad Malsin, owner of Beam Development, to design and build just such a project there.

Rentals are part of next step

Operating with a $9 million budget, they have rehabilitated a three-story building along 82nd Avenue into 54 live-work lofts, ranging from 477 square feet to 842 square feet. The complex also features gallery and common spaces.

The second phase will remodel another building into rental housing and commercial spaces. No schedule has yet been set for construction to begin.

'Artists and arts organizations always have to struggle to keep a roof over their heads,' Shettler said. 'Milepost 5 is a unique situation made possible by philanthropic nonprofit organizations. I don't know of another like it anywhere.'

For information on Milepost 5, call 503-724-6933, or visit the project's Web site at www.milepostfive.com.

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