Real Art Ways Approved For $1 Million State Grant For Relocation

The State Bond Commission has approved $1 million to help Real Art Ways with “planning and acquisition for a new, larger facility” in Hartford, according to minutes of the July 25 meeting posted on the website of the Office of Policy and Management.

The funding request from Real Art Ways, dated June 19, identified that larger facility as 81 Bartholomew Ave., less than half a mile from its current location at 56 Arbor St. Both are in the city’s Parkville neighborhood.

“It is on a 3.44 acres lot and is 67,000 square feet. It was built in the 1890s by the Columbia Bicycle Company, as a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility called the Hartford Tube Works,” the funding request states.

The request states says that the building is occupied by Champlin Packaging and that the owner was looking to move to Manchester.

Rory Poole, president and CEO of Champlin, told The Courant on Thursday that he has been talking to Real Art Ways Executive Director Will K. Wilkins “for quite a long time,” but that the sale of the Bartholomew Avenue building will have to wait until he finds an affordable place to which he can relocate. “I haven’t found a place, so I have no assurance that the sale will go through. If I can’t afford to do it, I can’t afford to do it. I’ve told them that all along,” Poole said.

A purchase price for the building is not listed on the funding request, but the bond commission allocation and the funding request aligns with the minutes of a March 27 Real Art Ways board meeting, at which Wilkins told the board he wanted to buy a 60,000-square-foot property whose price was $1 million. That document also states “with respect to timing, Will thought that moving within two years would be fast.”

Contacted by phone Thursday, Wilkins would not discuss any potential move. He said Real Art Ways would make an announcement in the future on the matter.

Real Art Ways board member Marc Reich confirmed on Thursday that a relocation was discussed at the March meeting. He added that in the past few years board members have considered several buildings.

“We’ve been at Arbor Street for a long time and it has been a very good facility for us, but the organization continues to grow and evolve,” Reich said. “We have to think about other options.”

The funding request lays out plans for the new space, including six movie screens, a black-box theater, 10,000 square feet of exhibit space, a children’s gallery, educational spaces, a cafe, a store, an outdoor performance space, rehearsal space and artists studios, as well as event-rental space, which was cited as “key to the business idea behind this project.”

The funding request specified a capital campaign for the move and renovation at $15 million to $18 million, with possible funding sources as the city and state; state and federal historic tax credits; individual, corporate and foundational grants; the New Market Tax Credit Program; and the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving. The funding request also said Real Art Ways’ current $1.2 million annual budget would increase to $4 million after the move.

Chris McClure, spokesman for the OPM, said Real Art Ways’ board and leadership have several more steps to take before they can get the $1 million.

“The information included in the [funding request] document is not by any means final. There are still several steps involved before this would move forward,” McClure wrote in an email. “The item being on the bond commission agenda is an authorization, but does not speak to the details of a contract that would ensue.”

A new location, if the sale goes through, would be the fourth in the organization’s 43-year history. All the other sites were downtown. The arts hub made its debut in 1975 on the second floor of a building at 197 Asylum St., which was torn down in 1980 to make way for CityPlace. RAW also lost its second space, at 40 State St., to redevelopment. It was forced out of its third space, at 94 Allyn St., due to plans, never carried out, to build a skyscraper there. In 1989, Real Art Ways moved into its current location at the back of the former Underwood Typewriter factory at 56 Arbor St.

The March minutes of the RAW board of directors also discussed conflict between the art space and its current landlord.

“The landlord’s attorneys have contacted RAW’s counsel on five (5) separate occasions to try and resolve the dispute regarding the lease increase. The attorneys are now discussing whether to submit the matter to arbitration,” the minutes state.

Wilkins said Thursday that Real Art Ways is in the midst of a 30-year-lease and that there have been disagreements between the organization and its landlord regarding rent. But, he said, those disagreements did not factor into any of Real Art Ways’ long-term plans.

“Anything having to do with our future has to do with Real Art Ways, only Real Art Ways,” he said.

Alfred Pedemonti, president of New England Management Corp., is the landlord of the building at 56 Arbor St., which includes the 12,500-square-foot space that Real Art Ways calls home. Pedemonti confirmed that there have been conflicts about the lease terms and that he was not surprised to hear Real Art Ways might relocate. But he was not worried about filling the space.

“It’s a good space and the building is full all the time. I never advertise for tenants. I’m not worried,” he said, adding that he was happy to hear that Real Art Ways is considering staying in Parkville.

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