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One Westinghouse artists housing missing one thing ... artists

Three years after Mayor Thomas M. Menino touted One Westinghouse Plaza in Hyde Park as artist live-work space, artists have given the former factory the brush off.

Artists have bought fewer than one-third of the 74 units, which feature refinished original oak floors, large Palladian windows and 12-foot ceilings.

"Did the Menino administration really think starving artists could afford $200,000 condos?” said Kathleen Bitetti, co-founder of the Massachusetts Artists Leaders Coalition. “When you consider that artists are self-employed and their income is erratic, low-cost rentals is what artists need, but the city’s not listening."
Speaking at the site in 2008 when a 1,000-square-foot model unit opened, Menino said the city was "working hard to keep the city open and affordable to everyone, including artists who need housing and work space."
What wasn't clear to the public at the time was that developer The Hamilton Co. preferred a different approach to the $20 million project.

Carl Valeri, president and COO, said in a recent interview that his company had sought to do rentals at the shuttered factory that once employed 400 workers building fans, propellers and turbines. But the Boston Redevelopment Authority rejected the idea. "The city said they were experiencing a loss of housing for artists and told us we could get approval for a zoning change to residential only if we agreed to build artists lofts," he said. "They also told us if you built it, they will come, but that hasn't happened."

So far, 28 non-artists have purchased condos in the building and 22 remain for sale from $209,000 to $219,000. Valeri said that despite aggressive marketing of the property, Hyde Park lacks the cachet of downtown artist enclaves. He also noted that banks' tightening of lending practices has made it more difficult for potential buyers to get financing. 
"The slow sales are the convergence of not being in the greatest of locations and, more importantly, the tighter underwriting standards from lenders," he said.

Heidi Burbidge, the BRA's senior project manager, said that while the goal of the project is to maintain a critical mass of artists at Westinghouse to create a supportive atmosphere, its location and the high prices have deterred artists from buying. "We have seen a higher demand for artists housing at Fort Point and the South End, while Westinghouse is further out and people may not be familiar with Hyde Park," she said. "And it turns out that lots of artists can't afford even the affordable units, which are priced at $157,000. We suggest the developer lower its prices."
Valeri said he has already reduced prices by as much as 20 percent, dramatically narrowing profit margins. He doubts that lowering prices more will spur sales. "Given the slow real estate market, buyers have not been shy about making lowball offers," he said. "But we're not even getting those. At this rate, we're just looking to break even."

The Hamilton Co. has asked the BRA to allow it to rent the rest of the units and release the company from the restriction that the affordable units be sold to artists only. The BRA has not yet made a decision on the request, a spokeswoman said.

Still, Ean White, a multimedia artist who moved from Fort Point to the Hyde Park project, said he has no problem with the fact that there's a mix of artists and non-artists. "I looked for to having non-artists in the building," he said. "Having some level heads has proved to be OK."

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