American Street in Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties section was once alive with industry, commerce and jobs. During the city’s deindustrialization and subsequent disinvestment, the area began to fall apart, leaving vacant warehouses and homes. In the increasingly competitive arts market, available and affordable space is rare, an asset that this neighborhood happened to have.
Located north of the expensive and expanding Center City, the property values in this area were affordable, since the area had yet to be targeted by developers and investors. In 2004, Crane Arts, a group dedicated to the development and growth of Philadelphia’s creative resources, assets and potential, purchased the Crane Building, an old bath fixtures warehouse with plans to redesign it around the needs of artists.
Over the next two years, the founding partners poured themselves into the project and successfully redefined the 1400 block of American Street with four stories of artist work spaces and a gallery now renowned in Philadelphia’s art scene. With the exception of a small bank loan and help from friends and family, the partners shouldered the financial burden until they could show investors that there was enough demand to keep the project afloat.
In 2006, a few months after the first tenants set up in their studios, Crane Arts came to Reinvestment Fund with their waiting list in hand. They had heard about Reinvestment Fund’s lending activities, which include commercial real estate projects in urban neighborhoods. Over the years, Reinvestment Fund’s portfolio has included many loans that support arts organizations, small cultural businesses, arts-related charter schools and arts-related real estate projects. The Crane Arts project was a perfect fit for Reinvestment Fund, who views the arts as critical to the health of a community and invests in projects that have the potential to catalyze revitalization in various Philadelphia neighborhoods.
Crane Arts’ affordable rental prices and commitment to emerging artists ensured that the audience would remain broad. In addition, financing a project in Old Kensington complemented Reinvestment Fund’s community development approach, which focuses on building from strengths. Reinvestment Fund had identified this section of North Philadelphia as an area where targeted investments could make a real difference in reactivating the market. Using its New Markets Tax Credit (NMTC) program, Reinvestment Fund was able to provide financing to Crane Arts. The size of the loan guaranteed that the partners could pay off all outstanding debts, continue their renovations, and plan construction on the factory’s old stables. And with this loan, Crane Arts was able to continue pursuing its vision of having the project become a hub of the Philadelphia arts scene.
The building now buzzes with activity: the website advertises various, year-round exhibits; visitors explore the center on “Second Thursdays” gallery nights; the Philadelphia Fringe Festival puts on performances there every fall; and the list goes on. The partners have rehabbed the space to fit 37 studios for different artistic mediums, rooms for three arts organizations and space for community events in nearly 60,000 square feet of renovated space. Crane Arts also sponsors emerging artists and graduate art students through fellowships, which helps generate even more energy at the center. Drawing arts enthusiasts from across the city, Crane Arts has become a beacon of activity in an area that has battled decline for decades.