Article by Steven Litt
Spaces, the nonprofit West Side gallery looking for a new home, won’t be moving as planned to Ohio City’s Hingetown area in the near future.
John Farina, president of the gallery’s board, said late Monday the gallery would let a lease option lapse this month with developer Michael Chesler on a one-story industrial building he owns at the southeast corner of West 29th Street and Detroit Avenue.
The gallery had hoped to sign a lease with Chesler in October on the 14,000-square-foot brick building, which stands catty corner to the newly established Transformer Station Gallery and near other cultural anchors including ICA Art Conservation and the BopStop jazz club, recently acquired by University Circle’s Music Settlement as a West Side satellite.
In July, the gallery released images of plans by architect John Williams of Process Creative Studios, suggesting that a move was imminent.
“It’s disappointing,” Farina said of the failure to move ahead with Chesler. “It’s a great building in an ideal location, but things like this happen.”
Chesler, reached by phone Tuesday afternoon, said, “we are really surprised and a bit unhappy” about the Spaces decision. “We bent over backwards to accommodate them.”
Farina said that both parties tried hard to come to terms, but that the discussions reached an impasse. He declined to specify any particular sticking points.
Under terms announced by both parties in April, the gallery had to raise $1.5 million in order to sign a lease with Chesler. Spaces at that time launched a $3 million capital campaign.
As of Monday night, Farina said, the gallery had raised $750,000. He said money was not the issue in the failure to reach agreement.
Chesler said the terms of his agreement with Spaces never changed, and that he agreed to allow the gallery to manage its own construction for the renovations it planned – something he said he rarely does as a property owner.
“I wanted Spaces in that building and blew off plenty of other [potential] tenants,” he said. “I really think they [Spaces] could not raise the dollars.”
Farina responded that Chesler’s statement about fundraising was “incorrect,” in his words.
“I’m confident we were on track to raise the money,” Farina said. “That was not the issue at all. It really just came down to a few sticking points he [Chesler] was insisting on and we were not going to agree to.”
Spaces, established in 1978, concentrates on exhibits of experimental works by emerging and midcareer artists, and on off-site programs.
In November 2013, the gallery sold a three-story, 19th-century vintage loft building at 2220 Superior Viaduct it had owned since 1990 for $418,000. It is leasing space in the building from its current owner for the next two years, Farina said.
Spaces decided to sell its building because the location had come to feel isolated and overshadowed by the StoneBridge Apartments, built on the south side of the viaduct in 2007.
Spaces sought Chesler’s building because it would have been ideal for the gallery, with its 20-foot ceilings and widely spaced steel columns and concrete floors. The gallery pledged to retain the building’s distinctive checkerboard glass facade facing West 29th Street.
Farina said he was confident that the donors who had promised $750,000 to the gallery would honor their pledges, despite the collapse of the lease negotiations.
“We have the commitments,” Farina said. “We know we have a good head start on where we end up. We’re kind of in a holding pattern as far as any more aggressive fundraising, but we’re still keeping our plans in motion. ”
Farina said that Spaces would continue to seek other potential lease opportunities in Ohio City in the area near Transformer Station, a nonprofit gallery established in 2013 by collectors Fred and Laura Bidwell in collaboration with the Cleveland Museum of Art.
If anything, the discussions with Chesler and the rising energy around the Transformer Station have convinced Spaces to continue looking in the neighborhood.
“We’re going to do this,” Farina said. “We have to move. We have two years left in the [Superior Viaduct] building. We definitely need to be aggressive about taking the next steps.”