An ambitious glassworks-foundry project might be the next occupant of a vacant beer warehouse on Second Avenue South.
JoAnne Berkow, founder of The Living Arts Foundation, based in Jupiter, made a presentation to an enthusiastic governing board of the Community Redevelopment Agency on Sept. 24 and will go before the City Commission on Nov. 5.
Berkow called Lake Worth “a great fit. It’s very artsy, artists are moving in there and the price of the land couldn’t be better. I walked into the building, the sun shone down and I said, ‘This is it.’”
If all goes well, the glassworks part could be running during the first quarter of 2014, followed by the foundry about a year later, said one of the organizers. A related ceramics co-op, with dozens of ceramicists sharing kilns and working space, is also in the works. That project is headed by Lake Worth gallery owner Joyce Brown.
Working in favor of the glassworks-foundry project is that South Florida, including Palm Beach County, has a considerable number of art buyers but few facilities where sculptors can cast their work. Lake Worth is centrally located to take advantage of that lack, the Benzaiten developers said.
The city and its Community Redevelopment Agency have been looking for an art-related use of the vacant building since acquiring it two years ago. The area is designated as an arts zone by the CRA and newly built artists’ lofts are within walking distance.
The Benzaiten Center for Creative Arts, named for a Japanese goddess and muse of artists, would devote about half of the 10,000-square-foot warehouse to a metalworks foundry and studio, to be used by sculptors, many of whom now must send their work out of state to be cast. The rest of the space would house a glassworks, a ceramics studio and a gallery and gift shop, according to a 79-page proposal.
“It’s a perfect location — an existing building,” said Rick Greiner, whose company IBI, a Canadian multinational design-engineering firm that specializes in urban redevelopment, is collaborating with Berkow on the project. “We can save costs right there.”
He said that Benzaiten has already contributed the first $350,000 of the estimated cost of about $2 million. Another cost saving is that Stuart glass artist Rick Eggert plans to move to Lake Worth, bringing his equipment – and presumably his following — with him, and setting up his glassworks at his own expense.
The rest would come from memberships, donations, grants, crowdsourcing and loans. After that, the center would make money from studio rents, event rentals, admission charges and sale of artwork.
The business plan put together by Greiner would have the facility self-sustaining soon after start-up.
Its projected income for 2015 would be about $637,000, its expenses $566,00, leaving about $104,000 as operating costs. The plan projects more than 800 artists using the facility and about 12,000 paid visitors.
The warehouse, built in the 1920s, was a station on the FEC railroad line. In 1972, Dennis Thies and Bruce Mills bought the building and used it as a beer distribution center. They donated the building at 1105 Second Ave. S. to the city in 2011. Its appraised value at that time was $535,000.
The gift came with some costs, however. Removing it from the tax rolls costs the city about $3,000 a year in lost property taxes and assessments, based on collections for the 2010-11 budget year. It costs about $35,000 a year to maintain the warehouse.
Kevin Greiner, IBI’s Pompano Beach-based representative, and Berkow are negotiating with an established art metal foundry in New York.
The design includes viewing areas and classroom space. Art demonstrations have become popular for corporate team-building and other events, Greiner said.
The Benzaiten project would lease the building from the city for $1 a year and pay a fee in lieu of property taxes the city loses because Benzaiten is a nonprofit group. Benzaiten will also make improvements on the property to suit its planned uses.
Berkow was involved in two other Palm Beach County projects which did not come to fruition: the proposed rehab of the historic Boynton Beach High School building into a downtown arts center and a similar project in West Palm Beach. In both cases, Berkow parted ways with the projects after the cities’ plans failed to gel.
One Benzaiten board member, Elizabeth Fago, a Palm Beach Gardens nursing-home developer, in 2005 resigned her position on the board that oversaw state investment in The Scripps Research Institute, after accusations that she influenced the decision on which plot of land on which to locate the institute. She denied the accusations.