Oak Street Lofts take artists' needs to heart

Oak Street Lofts affordable housing at 72 Oak St., directly off Congress Street, fulfills a vision of building apartments that are suited to urban artists, according to developers.

PORTLAND - The artist's community in Portland stood up and took notice when a private, nonprofit housing organization decided to try a different marketing approach.

Oak Street Lofts affordable housing at 72 Oak St., directly off Congress Street, fulfills a vision of building apartments that are suited to urban artists, according to developers.

"We're clearly tapping into a huge demand for this kind of project in Portland," said Greg Payne, development officer for Avesta Housing,

David Massaro, superintendent on the site with Wright-Ryan Construction, said the units are on track to be done in December.

"Right now, we're just about starting all the interior," he said.

Sheetrock, electrical work, windows and other interior work will conclude the project.

The apartments are being built on what was a parking lot along Congress Street.

"Construction is going very well," said Avesta's Payne. "We have right now a fairly unprecedented situation where we have over 100 people on an interest list for it — three months before we're actually going to be leasing the building out."

Avesta maintains a portfolio of over 1,600 housing units and administers Section 8 housing vouchers for an additional 1,300 families. Oak Street Lofts is something different, however. While legally Avesta cannot limit the efficiency apartments to artists, a community outreach confirmed that artists would be a good community to target with marketing.

"Excitement in the artist's community is part of the reason the list is as long as it is right now," Payne said.

"When we first came up with this idea and first considered this particular site for this project, we didn't have artists in mind. We had our initial meeting with the neighbors, and the neighbors pointed out artists who couldn't afford to live in the area," Payne recalled. "They said to us, 'Would you try to make this project more attractive to the artists community?'"

Avesta responded, "'We absolutely hear what you're saying to us,'" and according to Payne, an effort was made to reach the same city residents whose galleries and studios become a hotbed of activity during the monthly First Friday Art Walk.

"We've had people set up booths at First Friday Art Walk," Payne said.

"We've tried to specifically reach out to groups through MECA (Maine College of Art) to make sure that artists know about this housing, when we say we're targeting artists what we mean is we're targeting our marketing outreach to the artist's community."

Avesta's "first outreach" has been to the artist's community, and the design of Oak Street Lofts confirms this interest.

The design was focused on creating "spaces in the building that are attractive," with practical items such as larger sinks, community rooms, one of which could function as a work room, and wiring in hallways that would allow art hangings. Even aesthetic enhancements such as adornments to metal grating kept artists in mind, and the first floor is suited to an art show — perhaps even a First Friday Art Walk display, Payne said.

The 37 efficiency units were built at a cost of about $170,000 per unit to build, for an entire project cost of $6.4 million, Payne said.

The complex is expected to become the first multifamily affordable housing project in the state to be certified LEED Platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Rent will range from $506 to $760 a month, according to Avesta.

Avesta built Oak Street Lofts with several goals in mind, including job creation, energy efficiency and helping to meet the demand for affordable homes, Payne said. On Jan. 1, he hoped to bring people into the building and start renting out units.

"When the first 37 people actually rent up, we're going to pay very close attention to how this marketing process worked, and did we manage to reach out to the artist's community?" Payne said.

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Check out Avesta's blog, The Porch Light, for more news, updates and stories.

Contact Development and Communications Manager Sara Olson at 207-553-7780 x3352 or by email.