The Plain Dealer / By Steven Litt / March 31, 2016

CLEVELAND, Ohio – After a long search for a new home, the nonprofit Spaces gallery has signed a deal to purchase the ground floor of the Van Rooy Building at 2900 Detroit Ave. in Ohio City’s Hingetown, owned since July 2015 by cultural entrepreneurs Fred and Laura Bidwell.

The move, to be completed by January 2017, will relocate Spaces roughly a third of a mile west from its present low-visibility location in a three-story brick loft building at 2220 Superior Viaduct. Spaces sold the building in 2013 for $418,000 and has been leasing it ever since.

The relocation will provide Spaces with a much more prominent location and add heft to the emerging cultural and residential node at Hingetown, which includes the Transformer Station gallery, established in 2013 by the Bidwells in collaboration with the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Location, location

“I can’t imagine a better neighborhood for Spaces,” Fred Bidwell, a philanthropist, collector, arts advocate and former advertising executive, said in a recent interview about the Spaces relocation.

Using ad-man lingo, Bidwell jokingly called the Spaces move a “BOGO,” or “buy one, get one free,” in the sense that visitors to Spaces would naturally visit Transformer Station and vice versa, and would feel tempted to linger in Hingetown and spend money in the area’s new retail shops.

“It’s a virtuous circle that’s really exciting,” he said.

In addition to the art galleries, where admission is free, the neighborhood boasts ICA Art Conservation, retail shops at the Striebinger Block and the Ohio City Firehouse, and a planned “artisan pizza brewery” catty-corner from the new Spaces location in the Steelman Building at the southeast corner of Detroit Avenue and West 29th Street.

Cultural neighborhood

The Music Settlement, based in University Circle, established a West Side outpost in the Bop Stop building immediately west of the Van Rooy Building in 2014, and will install a preschool on the ground floor of a 240-unit apartment building planned by Snavely Group for the corner of West 25th Street and Detroit Avenue.

Spaces has raised $1.4 million to pay for its move, which is expected to cost $2.5 million. The gallery, founded in 1978, has folded the cost of its relocation into a $3.5 million capital campaign. Among other pitches, it plans to sell naming rights to galleries and other spaces inside its new home.

The lead contributor is the Gund Foundation, which donated $300,000 plus $200,000 in a matching grant, Christina Vassallo, director of Spaces since 2013, said Thursday.

The Bidwells are renovating the top floor of the three-story, Romanesque Revival Van Rooy building, once a factory and later a coffee warehouse. They plan to rent the middle of the two floors.

Rooftop access

All tenants will have access to the building’s elevator and stairwells, and Spaces will be able to use a rooftop deck overlooking Lake Erie and the West Side Shoreway, now being remodeled as a 35 mph boulevard.

To make the deal happen, the Bidwells donated $150,000 to Spaces for the purchase of the ground floor.

The Bidwells are also financing the Spaces mortgage on the purchase, but declined to provide the precise amount or interest rate.

But Bidwell said of the loan: “It’s below market rate, and it’s frankly a loan that a bank wouldn’t do.”

Vassallo said, “we’re completely elated” by the support from the Bidwells. “They are really boosting forward the arts in Cleveland, and we’re really lucky to be a part of that.”

The first floor at Van Rooy contains roughly 9,300 square feet of space, of which 4,000 will be available for galleries, an amount equivalent to the galleries at 2220 Superior Viaduct.

Architect John Williams of Process Creative Studios, who designed the new Heinen’s supermarket in the downtown Cleveland Trust Rotunda Building, is designing the gallery renovation.

By artists for artists

Spaces first opened in 1978 in downtown Cleveland’s Warehouse District. It has long prided itself on being run largely by artists for artists. It focuses on experimental works by emerging and midcareer artists from Northeast Ohio and around the world.

In 1990, the gallery moved to the west side of the Cuyahoga River on Superior Viaduct, paying $400,000 for a three-story, 1892 brick loft building. The New York-based Andy Warhol Foundation donated $126,000 to close that deal.

Construction of the multistory Stonebridge apartments on the south side of Superior Viaduct in 2007 reduced available parking, along with the gallery’s visibility. The gallery explored leasing the Steelman Building at Detroit Avenue and West 29th Street, but a deal with former owner Michael Chesler later fell through.

The gallery operates on a $480,000 budget and attracts attendance of about 5,500 a year, roughly a third of the visitation at Transformer Station. Vassallo said she thinks attendance at Spaces has the potential to triple in its new location.

“If I could just plainly say it, for an alternative art space like Spaces to last and thrive over 38 years is incredible,” Vassallo said. “So many spaces like this have come and gone, but we’re still here, and it’s because we speak to the community in Cleveland and beyond.”