Culture News

OP-tic Building Sold to New Owner, Will Continue Hosting Art Spaces ... For Now

Some major changes have taken place behind the scenes this summer at the OP-tic building in downtown Phoenix. A new property owner has entered the picture and one of the venue's tenants has made an exit as a result.

Local real estate developer Jerome Gutkin recently purchased the building, which houses a handful of galleries and boutiques, from its former owner Charlie Alpert for an undisclosed sum.

The good news is that Gutkin reportedly wants to keep things as they are and continue renting space to artists and entrepreneurs. The bad news? The building's future is still uncertain, as  plans might include redeveloping the building or razing it altogether in favor of another project.

This uncertainty was one of the reasons why local artist David Therrien, who has both rented space at the building and helped manage it in recent years, vacated the property soon after the sale transpired.

"I so loved that building and it broke my heart to leave," Therrien says. "I had a 10-year lease with [Alpert] that wasn't picked up by the new owners."

Another factor in his move, Therrien explains, is his fear that Gutkin will eventually gentrify the building or "turn it into a parking lot."

According to Alan Gutkin, Jerome's son and business partner in local firm JAG Development, the plan for the OP-tic building includes keeping artists and galleries in place. (Currently, only four of its nine spaces are occupied by artistic endeavors, including Cade Gallery and funky boutique Punk Couture).

These plans could change, he says, especially if property values increase after high-profile projects near the OP-tic building (including the Concord Eastridge Apartments) open for business.

"I think my dad will continue to have artists there so the building can be full and produce income, whether it's from artists or as an event space," Alan Gutkin says. "At some point in the future the property would probably need to be developed with more density. But for the time being, it's fine for what the market is [demanding]. I'm sure that anybody who would like to pay any kind of reasonable rent would be welcome." (New Times was unable to reach Jerome Gutkin for comment).

Therrien, however, is "almost certain" that artists will eventually either be kicked out or priced out of the building.

"Right now its occupied, they'll make some money, and can go two or three years until that giant apartment complex is done," he says. "And then that place [OP-tic] will be worth three times as much. And they won't have to do anything. They can flip it, make a million, and call it a day."

​The issue of gentrification has always loomed over the building's destiny. Back when it was known as .anti_space from 2006-2009, artist and electrician Scot McKenzie was allowed to rent spaces for galleries and boutiques until such time that Alpert could redevelop the building or transform it into high-end retail space. The recession and real estate nightmare in recent years kept either from happening, however, while the property's value plummeted.

When McKenzie relocated .anti_space last year, Therrien (who stored his massive installation Beautiful Light in numerous shipping containers behind the building) took things over. He signed a 10-year lease with Alpert, renamed the property OP-tic, and began hosting art exhibitions and events like the Phoenix Radiation Experiment inside. He had hopes of converting his shipping containers into additional gallery and work spaces, but ran into zoning issues with city of Phoenix officials.

"Had Charlie not sold the place, I really think I could've made something of the place," Therrien says. "I'm just glad that Jerome will continue renting spaces to galleries, at least for a little while."

He's not the only one who's ecstatic about that fact. Nancy Hill, proprietor of Gallery Hazel, says she's happy to hear that she can continue to operate her project at the building.

"We're all really hoping down here that the [property] owners will let us keep renting for the next year or two at least," she says.

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Benjamin Leatherman is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. He covers local nightlife, music, culture, geekery, and fringe pursuits.