There’s a new creative space coming together in the Grand Avenue arts and historic district. It’s a multiuse adaptive-reuse project located at 1614 West Roosevelt Street, which is the site of a former National Guard armory.
Jay Visconti is transforming the 1950s building into a space for artists and other creatives and calling it the Armory. Visconti is the head of Northwood Properties, based in Torrance, California. He’s also principal for Arizona-based Armory Partners, incorporated in August 2016.
“I looked at the building about four years ago, but passed on it because I really couldn’t see the vision,” Visconti says. “But then I began to understand how artists were being displaced by new developments and construction, and I saw the need for this for people.”
The property actually comprises a full city block – between West Roosevelt and Linden streets, as well as 16th and 17th avenues. It’s being developed in a couple of phases, starting with the existing building.
There’s a central area at the former armory, with rooms of various sizes branching off corridors that run in two directions from the center space. They’re intended as artist studios and creative office spaces.
But the building also has common areas, including a large kitchen and lounge area, and a central foyer that can accommodate a small band, and a simple food spread for things like exhibition openings. There’s no elevator, so people have to take the stairs to get to second-floor spaces.
So far, two tenants have moved in. The first was a company called Spectacle, which creates experiential marketing campaigns for music festivals, sporting events, trade shows, and other gatherings such as Austin’s annual South by Southwest. It’s a subsidiary of Union Digital, which is headed by Pat and Mike Murray.
Fellow creatives like Jeremy Watson, vice president of Walter Productions, know them as “the maker twins.” The Murrays designed one of Walter Productions' art cars, a conical pyramid-shaped sculpture called Mona Lisa, which shoots giant flames into the air.
The brothers moved into the former armory, where they’ve got a five-year lease, in January. They’ve got a team of about a dozen fellow creatives working on various projects inside their 15,000-square-foot shop, which is located in one of two rooms where armory personnel once stored ammunition.
Just last week, Glendale-based artist Jason Hugger moved into one of the studio spaces, where he plans to paint as well as show his work. “It’s about twice the space I had for painting at home,” he says. He’s paying $400 a month. Other spaces range from $300 to $850 a month, Visconti says.
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Being at the armory building has special meaning for the artist, and his wife, Cathryn Hugger. “This is such a great place to be, because Jason is a veteran,” she says. He’s already settled in, and looking forward to more creatives coming on board. Come November, he’ll be showing his work at another Grand Avenue art space called Sisao Gallery, in an exhibit featuring Carmody Foundation grant winners.
The second phase of developing the Armory will include new construction, assuming Visconti gets the city permits he needs to make it happen. He’s planning to build 40,000 square feet of artist live/work space with about 12 to 15 units. Each creative would have an 800- to 1,000-square-foot maker space on the first floor, and a living space on the second floor above it. That's slated to go on the southwest perimeter of the property, and he'd like to break ground in 18 months.
For now, the focus is finding more creatives for the existing building.
“There’s some real momentum around Grand Avenue,” Visconti says. “People are really taking pride in what’s happening here.”