Developers seek community feedback on living spaces for artists in former Schmidt Brewery and Pillsbury A-Mill


Two new housing developments geared toward artists will be coming to the Twin Cities in coming years, and on January 9 the people in charge held a meeting to hear the public’s thoughts on the matter.

Approximately 30 community members filed into the Mill City Museum for a multimedia presentation hosted by the project’s developers. Chris Velasco from PLACE, a local nonprofit that specializes in building social and environmentally sustainable communities, and Owen Metz from Dominium, the apartment development agency whose decades of expertise in the affordable housing field has being tapped to fill the units, played ringleaders for the town hall-style meeting. Though the existence of these plans for development was not up for discussion, the express purpose of the gathering was to open dialogue regarding what form the spaces will take upon completion.

After remaining vacant for over a decade, St. Paul’s historic Schmidt Brewery and Minneapolis’s Pillsbury A-Mill are slated for conversion into 450 units designed specifically with artists in mind. Artist residents will have access to affordable, sustainable spaces—both private and shared—in which to create and perform their work. Rent for these units will be substantially lower than market price thanks to the organizations having secured a federal Section 42 subsidy, which also guarantees they remain affordable for 15 years after opening their doors.

Such financial safeguards fulfill the mission of both the Minneapolis and Saint Paul arts and culture offices, whose leaders proved active participants in the discussion. Gülgün Kayim encapsulated the City of Minneapolis’s reason for encouraging this venture when she stressed the importance of creating “sustainable spaces for artists so they can stay, and not be priced out of” the communities that they so positively impact.

Pillsbury A Mill 

Of the audience, approximately half were individuals tentatively interested in living the proposed buildings. The entire presentation was open to questions throughout, and at times the discussion was quite lively. This was particularly the case when discussing matters of finance required as part of the buildings’ Section 42 status (e.g., income maximums for residents), as well as comparing the developments to preexisting similar spaces like the Carleton Artist Lofts.

Metz said that at this point in time they’re “more interested in what people share about how they’re going to use the space, and not so much what it will look like at the end of the day.” This effectively redirected the discussion to those areas that remain within their control, including divvying the supremely flexible common space into forms most valuable for the buildings’ future residents.

The presentation culminated in a demonstration of PLACE’s new online survey tool. Data from respondents will be used to gauge and tally the art community’s feedback in both an exhaustive and anonymous fashion. Once compiled, the survey data will be used to inform the final development stage at Schmidt and Pillsbury, then become available for public use, ultimately serving as a statistical window into the Twin Cities’ thriving and constantly growing arts community.

As the planning stage continues, it is Metz’s and Velasco’s hope that the survey make it into the hands of as many people as possible. Interested community members are encouraged to complete the survey here.

Coverage of issues and events affecting Central Corridor communities is funded in part by a grant from the Central Corridor Collaborative.