Steinfeld Warehouse Returns to Artists

December 21, 2011

By Teya Vitu

Artists could be back inside the Steinfeld Warehouse in just a couple years.

The Warehouse Arts Management Organization (WAMO) now owns the Steinfeld Warehouse, 101 West Sixth Street.

It took a five-year saga to get the 105-year-old brick structure in artists’ hands.

On the way, there was heartbreak, evictions and a complex three-way deal among the Arizona Department of Transportation, the City and WAMO to finally get Steinfeld back to the artists.

Sixteen artists were in Steinfeld in November 2006 when ADOT sent out eviction letters. ADOT had owned Steinfeld and 28 other Downtown warehouses since the 1980s.

WAMO first proposed buying all the Toole warehouses from ADOT in March 2007, but the artists ultimately were forced out of Steinfeld in July 2007 with no clear sense if or when Steinfeld would return to artists.

WAMO took ownership of Steinfeld on November 9 after submitting the winning proposal in a competitive bidding process. The City retains ownership of the land beneath Steinfeld and Toole Shed, 197 East Toole Avenue, which WAMO acquired from the City in March 2011.

WAMO also is the master lease holder of the 1929 Citizen’s Warehouse, 44 West Sixth Street, where Bicycle Inter-Community Art and Salvage (BICAS) is the primary tenant. The three warehouses bring 65,000 square feet of art space under direct WAMO control.

“This is the culmination of many years of work by many people,” WAMO President Liz Burden said. “What Steinfeld has the potential to be is a community arts center that is the anchor of the west end of the Warehouse Arts District.”

That won’t happen tomorrow, however.

The Steinfeld has structural deficiencies that first need to be stabilized and then the 32,000-square-foot former department store warehouse has to be brought up to code, which likely will cost at least $1 million.

Burden is optimistic the Steinfeld could be stabilized enough to host events in the next 12 to 18 months, and she hopes to have artists at home in live-work spaces as soon as 2014.

“We have a really ambitious schedule,” Burden said. “People are really happy to know a piece of Tucson history will be preserved and restored in a way that brings together community and builds community.”

Burden announced on December 20 that the Downtown architecture firm Poster Frost Mirto will determine how to repair the deficiencies and then design the Steinfeld interior for its future life.

Poster Frost Mirto is the same firm that authored the 2004 Warehouse Arts District Master Plan, which set the template for all decisions made for the Toole Avenue warehouses in the past seven years.

Poster Frost Mirto will establish a time line for the gradual reoccupation of Steinfeld. WAMO will host two design charettes in January to better determine potential future uses of the building.

The same five-year period behind the Steinfeld sale coincides with ADOT selling all the Toole Avenue warehouses between Stone Avenue and 6th Avenue. Steinfeld sits across a former loading dock (today’s Franklin parking lot) from this string of Toole warehouses.

Transferring these warehouses into the private sectors, specifically for arts uses, was spelled out in the 2004 Warehouse Arts District Master Plan. The plan created the Warehouse Arts Management Organization, a voluntary group originally designated to manage the state-owned warehouses and develop short-term and long-term capital improvement policies.

The Steinfeld acquisition completes the transfer to the private sector of all the warehouses in what is described in the master plan as the Toole Avenue Study Focos Area. WAMO, Skrappy’s, Fenton Investments and Peach Properties now own all these warehouses.

“I have a deep level of satisfaction to take what others had envisioned in the warehouse master plan and bring it closer to reality,” Burden said. “The mix of for-profit and non-for-profit is also good for the district. There are different ways for people to engage with the arts district.”

Ever since ADOT sent out its Novemer 2006 eviction letter, the plan was for ADOT to sell the Steinfeld to the City with an original purchase price set at $277,000. The City looked at various means to fund the purchase and structural stabilization, but no workable deal emerged.

Then the state and City saw merit in a land swap, but the state did not accept the first couple parcels the City offered. The state itself identified the City parcel it wanted in August 2009.

The City received the Steinfeld, Skrappy’s and Toole Shed properties in exchange for the City’s South Yard Drill Track property, a roughly 1 acre strip between the Historic Manning House and Interstate 10 upon which the state-owned freeway frontage road was built.

The property exchange included the added stipulation that the warehouses must be used for arts purposes, whether or not they are ultimately owned and/or managed by WAMO.

The three properties were valued at $656,800, but nearly all the value is in the land, not the warehouses.

Fast-forward to May 2010, when the city committed to negotiate to sell the Steinfeld, Skrappy’s and Toole Shed warehouses to partnerships headed by WAMO. WAMO entered into a nonprofit joint venture with Toole Shed Artists Collaborative and Skrappy’s to form Toole Shed LLC to purchase the Toole Shed warehouse, 197 East Toole, in May 2011.

Next door at 191 East Toole, Skrappy’s/Tucson Youth Collective bought the warehouse the youth center had occupied since 2008.

Once the Toole Shed deal was done, WAMO and City turned to the Steinfeld, resulting in the November 9 sale to WAMO.

The Steinfeld roof and foundation need stabilization first, and money must be raised.

“We’re looking for both partnerships and investors,” said Burden, adding that WAMO will also tap national and state grants and individual donations.