Salisbury Seeking State Help With Arts Community

SALISBURY – An application has been submitted by Salisbury to the state to receive financing help for an affordable arts community to be built in the downtown area.

Last week the Salisbury City Council was presented with a resolution to support the development of River’s Edge Apartments and Studio for the Arts on Fitzwater Street to be financed directly by the State of Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development.

The resolution came before the council following a work session earlier in the month when spokesman Brian Lopez of Osprey Property Company LLC presented the project.

Last week, Lopez returned and explained to the public developers are proposing to redevelop the abandoned Rivers Edge condominium project. Osprey intends on razing the partially built building that remains on the river’s shoreline and develop 90 new apartment units, including one-, two- and three-bedrooms, and a 4,500-square-foot community space that includes studios and/or classrooms.

The project will be marketed to artists seeking apartments. The application’s definition encompasses fields such as paint, sculpture, media, literature, acting, cinematography, and music, among many others. To qualify as an artist, Lopez explained that one doesn’t have to be a full-time professional in their field. Instead a potential tenant includes something like a portfolio of their work with their apartment application just to prove that they have been active creatively.

The units will serve persons who earn 30% to 60% of area median income, which is $16,000 to $45,000. Rent will range from $435 to $900 a month, which will trend each year based on income changes in the area.

Habitat America will provide on-site property management and staff to implement resident services programs. Services are anticipated to include community garden, job training programs, social activities, homeownership counseling, nutritional services, financial counseling, educational classes and seminars, recreational activities, transportation, computer classes, holiday and event parties.

The Epilepsy Association of the Eastern Shore (EAES) has become a partner on the project. EAES is a non-profit agency dedicated to serving persons with epilepsy and/ or development disabilities. EAES currently provides housing to clients in the Salisbury area and recognizes there is a great need for safe, decent affordable housing for those with disabilities. All first floor units in the project are handicap accessible, totaling 20 units.

The project will be funded with the use of federal tax credits, state loan funds from the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development and private debt.

Lopez explained that the State of Maryland’s tax credit program for affordable housing is extremely competitive. In this project’s case, tax credits would cover $12.5 million of the total construction costs, which is $16.5 million.

“Which means we only have to take about a $4 million loan of proceeds on the project,” Lopez said. “So by doing this with a smaller loan, we will be able to charge lower rents and operate the project.”

Councilwoman Eugenie Shields voiced concerns earlier this month over the housing being aimed only to the artist community.

“I thought that the general public should have the opportunity to rent at that facility, and with the income of $16,000-$45,000 I imagine x-ray technicians, public works, or even police officers’ living there but it is geared towards the arts community,” Shields said.

The project will be built in the district Shields represents and she has come to a compromise with the developers that services will be offered to the community, such as free art classes for children.

“Things are hard today and I am going to support this … I am also a visionary and I believe this building will enhance the marina,” she said.

Shields concluded that she will be working with Osprey in the future in sharing ideas on how the development can reach out to its surrounding neighborhoods.

“Our intent is to pick up the culture of the neighborhood and we really want to work together with Ms. Shields to do that and we intend on doing that,” Lopez said. “I think the project is going to be a hit.”

Council Vice President Deborah Campbell pointed out that the project will offer a gateway to the nearby Arts and Entertainment District in the downtown area.

“The bottom line is there is an opportunity to take a piece of land where there is a derelict abandoned building, create housing, create an economic catalyst … we have the opportunity to get behind this thing and create the kind of energy that will make it amazing,” Campbell said. “I have been on council for almost eight years and can’t remember anything that has created the kind of positive buzz that this has.”

Councilman Tim Spies sees it as the perfect opportunity for college graduates and part-time artists to affordable expand on their artistic capabilities.

“I think we have opportunities here, particularly educational opportunities for the children, that cannot be overlooked and it will help us come to a place where we can appreciate the neighborhood and the city as a whole,” he added.

Councilwoman Terry Cohen referred to the project as an investment in the downtown area.

“Art doesn’t know skin color, age, or gender, art is peoples souls and that is one of the things that people have in common, and that is one of the things that I love about art communities is that is one of the things that people see there and you will see it, a living breathing thing, that will come to the area and is beneficial to the area,” Cohen said.

The council voted 4-0, with Councilwoman Laura Mitchell absent, to approve the resolution supporting the project River’s Edge Apartments and Studio for the Arts and its financing.