Music by University Avenue, Lyric by Johnson Brothers


“Beautiful apartments suffer a stigma shared by beautiful blondes,” said writer Joseph Giovannini. “No one quite believes they can be very smart or practical. 

The Lyric at Carleton Place, on University and Hampden avenues, shatters that myth by being both beautiful and brainy.

The six-story Lyric apartments mark the second phase of the Carleton Artist Lofts, which are located next door.

Brad Johnson, chief manager of University Carleton Development, helped develop both the Carleton and the Lyric. He’s also part of the family who owns the Johnson Brothers Liquor Company. The Johnson Brothers operated out of the University Avenue location for 50 years and own the buildings and property.

“We felt an attachment to the buildings and tried renting them for several years to warehouse and office users,” said Johnson. Johnson Brothers eventually developed the 169-unit Carleton Artist Lofts, which are reserved for people engaged in the arts whose incomes are below a certain threshold.

The Carleton lofts were snapped up quickly, but some potential residents did not meet the income restrictions. That led University Carleton Development to plan another building that would be open to anyone. The Lyric opened in March, and so far 100 of the 171 units have been leased, Johnson said.

Performance artist Mia Jennings was the second person to move into the Lyric. Jennings, who runs a burlesque troupe, moved from the Carleton.

“I had been at the Carleton since it opened, and I watched the Lyric from the time it was a hole in the ground,” she said. “My Carleton loft was a working space with concrete floors, which I needed at the time. At the Lyric, I have a one-bedroom, with a den, fireplace and balcony.”

A big draw for Jennings was the building’s performance lab, which is modeled on a black-box theatre.

“I’ll be doing a show in August,” she said, “so it’s great having this resource.”

Residents pay a fee for using the performance space, which includes a sound and light booth and movable staging. A small kitchen makes it easy to serve hors d’oeuvres.

Jennings said she enjoys being able to take a break from her work by sitting on the balcony and looking out over University Avenue. She’s also used the rooftop hot tub a couple of times.

The community room at the Lyric is called Johnny’s Lounge, a nod to the former occupant of the building’s corner, Johnny’s Bar. It’s decorated with old photographs, including one of a lounge car, circa 1950s, that inspired Johnny’s décor. There’s also gallery space that residents can use for exhibitions, plus a workout area, space for massages and a sauna. 

Said Johnson, “The units on the first floor all have separate entrances, so these are technically live-work units where people can bring in clients or operate cottage industries. Each unit has a display case that someone could use to show art, a book, pottery or whatever.”

Outside, the Lyric has a courtyard and amphitheater, complete with picnic area. Johnson said several concerts are planned for the summer, and some Fringe Festival performances will take place there as well.

Chris and Mary Lower operate the Sterling Cross Group and handle the Lyric’s public relations and marketing.

Chris Lower said they’ve been using a variety of social media to publicize the Lyric: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. He said they plan to set up an iTunes channel for residents who want to present and sell their music.

“This is not any old apartment building,” Lower enthused. “We think of it as a gemstone where there’s a different facet depending on which way you turn it. It’s a great place for artists. And it’s historically tied into the neighborhood. And it’s becoming a community of its own.”

While floor plans are different, all apartments have a double-wall system to contain sound.

“I was keen on sound proofing because to me it’s not a luxury building if you can hear your neighbors,” said Johnson.

Johnson said the Lyric came close to being LEED certified. “We backed out when the cost became too high to change our HVAC system to get just 5 percent more efficiency,” he said.

But many green elements were incorporated into the construction, he said, including countertops that are 75 percent recycled materials.

Johnson attributes the success of this endeavor to St. Anthony Park.

“It says so much about this neighborhood – its faith in this area,” he said. “I hope people will come to see what’s happening here: theatre, art galleries and restaurants are popping up.”

A neighborhood open house will be held August 6-8, when area businesses will have extended hours and special activities will take place.

“There are hundreds more people living in this area than there were a couple of years ago,” said Johnson. “That’s really changed things. It’s not just an industrial area but it’s a viable neighborhood, too.”

For more information about the Lyric, visit,!/lyricliving?ref=ts or