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70 Artists Losing Gowanus Studio Space as Arts Group Moves to Sunset Park

By Leslie Albrecht | December 7, 2016 5:30pm
 A painter at work in 2013 in one of the semi-private artist studios at 168 Seventh St. The nonprofit arts group Trestle Art Space is leaving the building but has opened new studios in Sunset Park.
A painter at work in 2013 in one of the semi-private artist studios at 168 Seventh St. The nonprofit arts group Trestle Art Space is leaving the building but has opened new studios in Sunset Park.
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DNAinfo/Leslie Albrecht

GOWANUS — An additional 70 artists are losing studio space in Gowanus following a "bigger than expected" rent increase for a local arts nonprofit, the group's director said.

Trestle Art Space will close its headquarters at 168 Seventh St. off Third Avenue at the end of January and move to 850 Third Ave. in Sunset Park.

Trestle's Seventh Street location provides work space for 70 painters, textile artists, installation artists, photographers, sculptors and printmakers, said executive director Rhia Hurt.

Trestle has a second set of work studios in Gowanus at 400 Third Ave., which will remain open, but the group's primary studio spaces, gallery, classroom and offices will move to Sunset Park.

Trestle rented the Sunset Park space in September as part of an expansion and had originally planned to hold on to its 168 Seventh St. space as well, Hurt said.

When it was time to negotiate a new lease for Seventh Street, Trestle prepared for an expected rent increase by raising extra grant money, Hurt said. But the amount the landlord mentioned in an initial conversation was "untenable," Hurt said, and more than Trestle could pay while still maintaining its goal of providing affordable work space to artists.

Landlord Mitchell Schwartz told DNAinfo New York he had hoped Trestle would stay in the building and was surprised when the group decided to leave. He said the new rent he offered was "affordable."

Neither side would tell DNAinfo specifics about the rate of the old or proposed rent.

"This is not the big bad landlord throws out the arts community," Schwartz said. "We've never had a tenant leave because their rent was too high."

Schwartz has longtime ties to Gowanus. His father started a sweater manufacturing company on Seventh Street in the 1970s. The family bought several industrial buildings nearby to house yarn and machinery. The sweaters are no longer made locally, but Schwartz still owns the buildings and now rents spaces to dozens of artists and makers.

His tenants include The Bell House, the performance and rehearsal space iBeam, Gowanus Darkroom, Gowanus Studio Space, and the woodworking shop Makeville Studios. Earlier this year the ad agency Inamoto & Co. rented space in one of his buildings.

Mitchell described himself as a "flexible" landlord who doesn't surprise his tenants with huge rent increases. He said he runs artist-friendly buildings with little turnover where tenants typically stay for years.

Hurt called Trestle's departure from Gowanus a "disappointment" and yet another reminder that nonprofits with small budgets have a tough time contending with the neighborhood's booming real estate market.

"Being in an industry that isn’t completely profit-driven is a hard place to be in in a real estate-driven world,” Hurt said. "It feels like we’re at the point now where there needs to be some kind of government regulation for small businesses."

Christopher Havens, a commercial real estate broker at Citi Habitats, said the arrival of a handful of high-rent commercial spaces in Gowanus had "changed the market forever."

Fully renovated formerly industrial buildings such as 68 Third St. — where the tech company Genius and co-working space Cowork|rs rent space — can fetch prices in the $40s and $50s per square foot, he said, more than double what tenants in Gowanus paid five years ago.

"I think you’re going to see Gowanus get to DUMBO pricing," Havens said. "I would compare this area to what happened to DUMBO. It had over 500 artists, now it's less than 100."

Some artists have worked at Trestle's Seventh St. studios (which were previously known as Brooklyn Artists' Gym and Brooklyn Art Space) for up to 10 years, Hurt said.

Though losing the Seventh Street headquarters is a blow, Trestle's new Sunset Park studios are an improvement in many ways, Hurt said. Trestle has a 10-year lease on the 15,000-square-foot space, which has beautiful light, a better layout, and amenities such as a 24-hour doorman and nice bathrooms, Hurt said.

She's hoping most of the artists who use Trestle's Seventh St. space will relocate to the Sunset Park facility, where they'll be able to pay the same rate for communal workspace that they do at Seventh Street.

Abby Subak, director of the group that runs Gowanus Open Studios, said the departure of Trestle's Seventh Street headquarters feels "like a punch in the stomach" on top of the recent loss of hundreds of artists' workspaces on Ninth Street and Second Avenue.

With the city now studying a possible rezoning of Gowanus, Subak this week launched a survey of artists to gather as much information as she can on the number of artists that work in the area and where they go after they leave Gowanus.

Armed with that data, she hopes her group can work with city planners to guide policies that could protect art spaces in a rezoned Gowanus.

"Anecdotally, a lot of artists stop making art when they lose their studios or leave New York City altogether," Subak said. "People in New York who enjoy the fact that the city is a creative place with all this art happening need to take this seriously and figure out a way for artists to stay in the city."

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