New studios on Court Street shaping up

NASHUA – A creative hub for the arts is taking shape at 14 Court St., with nine new studios for artists – now projected to rent for $125 per month – in the basement level of the historic structure, which already features the Liquid Therapy brewery.

During the Tuesday Nashua Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting, Director of Economic Development Tim Cummings delivered members an update regarding the status of the city-owned former fire station.

Duncan Webb, the consultant hired for the Performing Arts Center feasibility study, included a recommendation in the report that the city should look into implementing an “Arts District.” With the artists’ studios going in on Court Street, the future Performing Arts Center in the former Alec’s Shoes building on Main Street and the Keefe Center for the Arts on Elm Street, the formation of this district in downtown is moving forward.

This studio project began last year, and within the last two weeks, officials began marketing the spaces.

“We have interest from three folks already, which I think is pretty good,” Cummings said on Tuesday. “My goal is to see this filled up within the next year.”

The idea developed under the leadership of Alderman Ken Gidge, with the support of Mayor Jim Donchess. The intent is to create an environment similar to what is being done in Lowell, Massachusetts in Mill 5, where there are studios for artists under development.

Cummings said through a public-private partnership through the Nashua Area Artists Association, officials are looking to market and attract artists to the space. He said the city may plan to charge about $125 per month to rent one of the studios, though the exact price remains in discussion.

The property is comprised of two different buildings, with the first structure being the former downtown fire station. That building is then connected to a newer structure from the era of the 1960-70s, which houses the Janice B. Streeter Theater. In that new addition, there is also two multipurpose rooms, and a couple of office suites which house nonprofits, artists and artist organizations.

Through a separate public-private partnership, the older firehouse structure was able to open its bays after years of sitting dormant, as various craft beers are flowing from within. Cummings said said the owners of Liquid Therapy did a significant amount of work to actually get the construction done, which reportedly cost more than $150,000.

“Liquid Therapy is doing well and I think it’s helped bring a breath of life into that structure,” Cummings said.

He said the city, through its revolving loan program loaned Liquid Therapy approximately $125,000. The city set up the program in a way to allow the brewery to pay the loan back in payments over five years. The city is not charging the brewery rent until after that loan is repaid, although once it is paid in full, the rent would go up to a market rate type of rent.

In terms of future uses popping up at the Court Street property, certain mechanical systems and public safety improvements need to be made. The building requires certain improvements for the occupancy level to increase in the building, although there is already a plan in place to address a majority of these code-related issues.

One of the larger issues, which is taking priority, is the sprinkler/fire suppression systems in the building either need to be replaced, upgraded or installed.

“We’re currently in an RFP (request for proposal) process with that,” Cummings said.

The city’s building inspector issued the RFP a couple months ago, and has not yet received any responses. As a result, another one was issued with more detail, and proposals are due at the end of April.

As far as basement level improvements go, the nine studios of approximately 100 square feet were constructed, while glazing at the subgrade level also occurred. Moreover, the old firehouse improvements include the interior work done by the brewery and glazing at the street level.

Additionally, needed deferred maintenance includes gutter and drain replacement and brick repointing. The roof needs to be repaired throughout the entire building over both structures, which will be an expensive project.

During Tuesday’s meeting, Cummings also discussed the idea of creating more of an arts district in the downtown through zoning. The idea would be to have something to capture the Keefe Auditorium, Court Street and the future PAC as major anchors to drive the creative economy. He said doing the zoning may make it easier for private sector building owners to take on such a project.

“It’s something that you may want to consider, as clearly, the market is starting to already move in a direction of actually creating an arts district,” Cummings said.