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updated: 4/26/2010 3:35 PM

Elgin mayor hopeful grant for artists' co-op will come

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There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle if Elgin eventually will open a 55-unit artists' co-op in downtown by 2012.

Mayor Ed Schock, as part of his State of the City webchat with residents this week, believes the biggest piece - some $8.8 million in federal housing grants - will fall into place this summer.

"We are cautiously optimistic Elgin could be awarded one of the grants," Schock said.

Elgin and 32 other projects are finalists out of 150 applicants at the Illinois Housing Development Authority.

Man Yee Lee, IHDA spokeswoman, said the authority has $34,854,668 in federal funds to hand out. The number of recipients has not been determined.

In January, the city added one piece to the puzzle: a potential site for ArtSpace, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit group that rehabs and converts old buildings into affordable housing for artists.

The 30-year-old group has 25 projects in 12 states; this would be their first in the Chicago suburbs.

Elgin traded some 16 acres of vacant land near Elgin Community College in exchange for the college's aging 60,401-square-foot downtown Fountain Square Campus at 51 S. Spring St. The campus will shut down after the fall 2010 semester but ECC offiicials have not set a specific date.

The city next month will apply for the low-income housing grants, which are doled out by the federal government and distributed the state, and a final word should come on or before Aug. 15.

Heidi Kurtze, ArtSpace director of property development, said the project has an overall cost of $14 million and the remaining money will come from fundraising, more federal funds and a loan.

"For 55 units, this is a pretty typical budget for an ArtSpace project," she said, noting if all goes well, construction could begin in May 2011 with grand opening planned for September 2012.

The plan also will contain a 42,854-square-foot addition and nearly 7,000-square-feet of retail space.

City officials hope the project will help downtown by adding full-time residents and along with visitors for shows and exhibitions that hopefully will frequent restaurants and bars.

"We have a very strong arts community," Schock said. "Art and artists are usually on the leading edge of revitalization."

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