HOUSTON – (By Cynthia Lescalleet for Realty News Report) – The opening this weekend of Sabine Street Studios on the 55-acre Sawyer Yards campus of converted industrial properties adds yet more workspaces for working artists, creatives — and this time — business ventures that meet the vision for the campus’ re-purposed industrial properties.
In joining the other converted properties, Sabine Street Studios presents several differences, says Jon Deal of The Deal Co., the project’s developer.
Take its size, for example. At 48,000 square feet, its single-story set-up is smaller than many of the converted behemoths elsewhere in the Sawyer Yards campus mix. But it’s large enough for another 67 workspaces, two gallery spaces and wide, event-friendly corridors.
The property’s shared ownership is also unique for the campus. Deal and Steve Gibson and Lovett Homes founder Frank Liu have teamed up this time. Each is an established participant in other pieces of Sawyer Yards. They were all interested in the property. This time, Deal says, they’re sharing it.
Another difference between the newest redo and its larger brethren is how the buildout includes several larger workspaces of up to 2,500 square feet that might appeal to business startups, Deal says. But he remains emphatic that any enterprising tenants will still need to meet the creative mindset and add value to the community’s artsy underpinnings, “or we won’t let them in.”
Translation: Artsy endeavors, yes. Traditional accountants, not so much.
Renovating the former Halliburton plant was an 18-month project, including a brutal nine months for the permitting, Deal says. Prior to its launch, the new studios are about 60 percent leased.
Located across the street from Spring Street Studios, Sabine Street Studios sits a bit north of the other converted properties of Sawyer Yards, sited near downtown in the historic First Ward as well as the Washington Avenue Arts District, a 2014 designation by way of the Texas Commission on the Arts.
Renovated over the past 14 years by Deal or others or in partnerships or some combination thereof, the artsy-oriented outcomes include: Winter Street Studios, Silver Street Studios, The Silos at Sawyer Yards, Summer Street Studios, the Tech Center, 2500 Summer St., The Shops at Sawyer Yards and now Sabine Street Studios. More than 400 artists work there.
Over time, the campus has picked up dining, entertainment and retail uses.
“We envision the campus as a destination of complementary uses,” Deal explains.
But that’s not likely to include live-work-play spaces, a concept considered earlier and abandoned. “We’d love to see a shared work space open, but that would take the right operator.”
Nix The Exit Strategy
Deal says he’s in it for the long haul. “There’s no exit strategy,” he says. “I must have missed that class.”
He was also all-in it from the get go, with his development of Winter Street Studio in 2005. He says that project formalized how the unimproved building previously (and briefly) had been used by a group of pioneering artists.
To cultivate the first group of 30 artists for the unusual project, Deal consulted with abstract artist Sandi Seltzer Bryant for about a year and a half, she recalls. Bryant remains one of Winter Street Studios’ original tenants.
Self-described as a “purist” regarding studio use by working artists, she says, “the development has gone beyond what I could have imagined.”
Bryant says she insisted from the start that Deal’s Winter Street project offer “what working artists really need.” No rats. Toilets that flush. Air conditioning. A secure building…
And reasonable rent, something Deal says has been a persistent challenge as land prices have escalated. His first project, for example, ran about $10 per square foot. Now, prices have hit $75 per square foot and above, he says. Construction costs have also risen.
Apartment and townhome developers attracted to the revitalizing First Ward, which is near the northwestern edge of downtown, have contributed to the escalation, he says.
With the surrounding neighborhood getting more densely developed, he says it’s also getting more difficult to make the numbers work for repurposing more of what’s already built and what’s left.
Since different projects have had different costs, the rental rates differ, as does the mix of tenants, some of which are not always working artists, he explains, again stating the uses are all creative.
Still, Deal prefers to renovate rather than build new, a less complicated undertaking. While renovation means the challenges are greater, so are the rewards, he says.
The rewards, however, are not necessarily in the return on investment, he admits. “There’s some sacrifice on ROI, but it has been great to add a cultural gem to the city.”
He believes the creative conversion of former industrial property also legitimizes the arts as an economic entity for the city.
Meanwhile, with its 400 working artists and creative businesses, Sawyer Yards is one of the largest such communities in the country.
As a long-term presence in the development, abstract colorist Bryant says the opening of each subsequently renovated building does trigger curiosity for artists already in place. Sometimes, there’s a round of “musical studios,” as they jump into the latest space. In doing do, they sometimes have to double-up to swing the higher rent, she notes.
Organized and Ad Hoc
On Saturday, Sabine Street Studios officially launches during the Sawyer Yards Spring Biannual Art Stroll, at which hundreds of artists open their studios to the public for a looksee.
In addition to the semi-annual Art Stroll, Sawyer Yards hosts a free public monthly event called “Second Saturday.” Artists can opt to open up for the public exposure. Not all choose to participate – or to participate every time, Bryant says. (Not all who wander the corridors are interested in art.)
With so many buildings and so many studios to experience, as well as the entertainment and dining venues, Deal suggests it can be “a bit difficult to navigate it all in a day.” Several of the studio buildings now hold individual events, as do groups of artists. Sabine Street Studios’ first solo exhibition, for example, will be this summer, “TPS 27: The International Competition.”
“We’re excited about the way Sawyer Yards continues to evolve as an arts and entertainment destination in Houston’s urban center,” says Deal in a Sabine Street Studios announcement.
But artist/tenant Bryant, ever the observer of the shifting vibe on the creative campus, says: “We’ll see.”