The city of Ventura is moving forward with a project to build 50 low-rent artists lofts in a reinvigorated downtown, a move officials hope will help establish the seaside community as a regional center of cultural activity.
The City Council, acting as the redevelopment agency, voted Monday night to negotiate an agreement to turn over an acre on Thompson Boulevard to a Minneapolis-based nonprofit that creates modestly priced rentals for painters, poets and sculptors across the United States.
The artists enclave would be the first in Southern California by Artspace Projects Inc., a nationally known group that has created more than 500 low-cost units in 27 projects since 1979.
"We're trying to establish ourselves as a cultural and artistic center of regional significance," said Councilman Bill Fulton, an urban planning expert. "And one way to put us on the map is to have the only Artspace project in Southern California."
This week's action was the second step in a process the city expects will transfer ownership of two city lots to Artspace and end with the opening of the studio lofts at the west end of downtown in 2007.
The project also is to include about 20,000 square feet of street-level space for galleries and shops, and a courtyard for art shows and special events.
Increasingly, artists have been priced out of Ventura as the cost of a typical home has doubled and rents have soared in recent years.
Some artisans who moved to Ventura in the 1990s because they couldn't afford to live in Santa Barbara have already moved again to more affordable communities away from the pricy California coastline.
Artists and art supporters packed the City Council chamber Monday night to back the artists' housing project.