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Artspace Gets a Boost During Blue Chip Presentation

The historic Warren Building, which sits in the heart of Michigan City’s Uptown Arts District, is a symbol of the return of the city’s downtown being the anchor of the community.

“What once made Michigan City great, will make us great once again,” Michigan City First Ward Councilman Richard Murphy told dozens of supporters of the Artspace project Thursday night at “An Evening with Artspace,” an event organized to raise funds for the project that aims to transform the long-vacant Warren Building into a space with 44 affordable artist lofts that will serve as the pillar of an already thriving art community.

Established in 1979, Artspace is a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization that aims “to create, foster and preserve affordable spaces for artists and arts organizations.” The Michigan City project will be their first in Indiana.

The project, which has been the result of “vision, hard-work, and people trusting each other” since 2008, Murphy said, will not only serve as the center of art in the community, but bring life back into a building that has stood as one of the city’s tallest structures since 1929.

Michigan City At-Large Councilman Tim Bietry served as the host of Thursday night’s event at the Blue Chip Casino, introducing a number of speakers that both informed and energized a crowd eager to help fund the remaining portion of the project not covered by the award of $10 million in tax credits from the Indiana Housing and Community Development Authority.

“Artspace is one of the most exciting developments in the city’s history,” said Bietry, who was among the first people in the city to spearhead the effort to bring Artspace to Michigan City.

Shannon Joern, senior director of national advancement at Artspace, showed several examples of similar projects nationwide that have transformed vacant structures into the catalyst for urban renewal. Such samples included a project in Reno, Nevada that restored a historic but vacant hotel building into a vibrant art studio and the Karcher Artspace Lofts, which helped restore the entire downtown area in Waukegan, Illinois - a city similar to Michigan City in the sense that it borders Lake Michigan in close proximity to Chicago.

“That is going to be us very soon,” Bietry said. “Michigan City is going to be like Waukegan in that respect.”

Mayor Ron Meer pointed out the progression of Artspace in Michigan City - from a far-fetched idea to a reality on the horizon - is the result of “so much work from so many people, a lot of it happening from behind the scenes.”

“I’m extremely excited about all the involvement and cooperation going on with this,” he said.

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A video produced by local artist Angie Carlson titled “Artspace Uptown Lofts: A Catalyst for Change” drew a standing ovation from those in attendance, many of whom would make special donations to the project.

“(Artspace) is going to be a boom for Michigan City,” said Neil Kienitz, a lifelong Michigan City resident and artist best known for his ‘South Shore’ poster series. “Not only will it have a great economic impact, but a great social impact as well. It is going to bring back that thriving downtown that we remember from years ago, and what can be better than the arts?”

David and Melli Hoppe recently moved to Michigan City from Indianapolis, and could not be more thrilled about the project finally coming to fruition.

“We know from experience that the arts can rejuvenate a make it more livable,” said David, a writer who worked in Michigan City for eight years in the 1980s.

Melli, an artist herself who was born and raised in the city, said the project is a “great re-use to a wonderful old building that has been abandoned for too long.”

The moment of the night was saved for the end of the program, when former Mayor Chuck Oberlie urged all in attendance to make a financial contribution to the project, which will cost $13 million to complete.

Oberlie said he wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything he wouldn’t as he presented a personal check for $5,000 to Artspace.

“From day one, there has been no organized opposition to this project,” Oberlie said. “It has been so popular it has united our community.”

While the project has been on the minds of artists and officials in Michigan City since 2008, Joern says “the end is in sight,” sharing that the target date to begin construction on the renovation is in early 2015, with the projected lease date being set for 2016.

“Our most successful projects come when they line up with local community goals,” Joern said. “We know this will be a great success. We believe in the future of Michigan City and feel privileged to be part of it.”

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