A new mixed-use project fills a hole in the fabric of historic downtown Hastings with distinctive affordable housing for artists

By Joel Hoekstra

For years, the city of Hastings had struggled to find a good use for a one-acre property on the eastern end of its historic downtown. The old tannery that once stood on the site, overlooking the Mississippi River, had been demolished and replaced by a surface parking lot. From time to time, various developers had made proposals to build on the site, but none of the plans ever amounted to anything.

That changed in spring 2015, when the Hastings Economic Development and Redevelopment Authority agreed to sell the lot for $1. The buyer? Artspace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit whose mission is to create affordable housing for artists and their families. Three years later, in May 2018, the organization officially opened the Artspace Hastings River Lofts, a $12.6 million, mixed-use facility with 37 units for creatives of all stripes—painters, writers, musicians, sculptors, weavers, woodworkers, and more. (The project was funded in part with tax-credit financing.)

“The project went pretty fast by affordable-housing standards,” saysBecky Carlson St. Clair,Artspace’s director of property development. “The stars aligned quickly.”

Many Artspace projects are found in larger cities and metro areas, but Carlson St. Clair says Artspace looked more closely at Hastings after city officials and the Hastings Prescott Area Arts Council asked the nonprofit to do a survey of artist needs in the community, a region whose blend of affordability and natural beauty—at the intersection of the St. Croix and Mississippi rivers—has attracted a surprising number of creatives.

After rigorous assessment, Artspace decided to build in Hastings, and it tapped UrbanWorks Architecture in Minneapolis to help select a site and design a building. UrbanWorks principal David Miller, AIA, recalls looking at properties with city officials, who were eager to settle on a location and break ground. “The site near downtown just seemed like the right opportunity,” he says, because the project dovetailed with the city’s efforts to bolster its historic center and renovate nearby Levee Park.

“It really helps when you have a strong partner in the project, like we did in the City of Hastings,” says Carlson St. Clair.

Artspace’s other partner, UrbanWorks, scaled and detailed the design to fit its distinctive setting. The facade of the three-story structure echoes the profile and patterning of nearby downtown buildings, and its coloring and materials—largely brick—further blend the building into its historic surroundings. Inside, the living units vary in size from studio to three bedroom.

“Light was the leading consideration in the design,” says Miller. “For visual artists, daylighting is so important.” All the units have nine-foot-tall vertical windows that allow sunlight to flood in.

The units also accommodate artists by having taller ceilings than do traditional apartments. Floors are durable, with no fussy finishes. Detailing in kitchens and bathrooms was kept to a minimum. Doorways are wide throughout the building, allowing artists to easily move materials and finished works into and out of the units. Most apartments have sinks with gooseneck faucets to accommodate buckets.

Other amenities serve the resident artists by fostering community. On the river side of the building, for example, an outdoor plaza with a podium stage can be used for musical and dramatic performances. A 1,600-square-foot gallery on the main floor is available to residents who wish to exhibit their work. Visual art can also be displayed in hallways throughout the building.

“We’re always happy to create space where artists can thrive,” says Carlson St. Clair. “But in this case, it was equally exciting to see how the community responded to the new building.”

Location: Hastings, Minnesota
Client: Artspace
Architect: UrbanWorks Architecture LLC
Project lead designer: David Miller, AIA
Landscape architect: Kimley-Horn
Construction manager: Loeffler Construction & Consulting
Size: 37 live/work units, a 2,060-square-foot commercial space, and a 1,600-square-foot gallery
Cost: $12.6 million
Completion: May 2018
Photographer: Brandon Stengel, Assoc. AIA