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I’d be dancing, too (if I lived in a luxury loft subsidized by taxpayers).

Star Tribune photo by Jeff Wheeler

The Star Tribune’s Sunday edition featured a photo on the front page of two women dancing on the rooftop of the A-Mill Artists Lofts, with the city skyline as a backdrop. The article was a celebration of recent metro area growth, a triumphant return of both the young and the old, mostly hip white people, to downtown Minneapolis.

(And yes, it was a celebration of gay pride: the young women were celebrating their romantic anniversary.)

Star Tribune photo by Jeff Wheeler

Star Tribune photo by Jeff Wheeler

The A-Mill Artists Lofts, located along the Mississippi River, are a special “affordable housing” project of the Metropolitan Council, City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, et. al. Anyone who voted to spend public dollars on this project ought to be banned from public life.

The project is subsidized with taxes and grants, and below-market rate rents are tied to a certain income and reserved for people who are “committed” to being an artist.

Finished just a few years ago, these Lux-Lofts were booked in a New York minute. If I were a young “artist” I would move in and make damn sure my reportable income never went up enough to lose my lease eligibility.

Here is how the website describes the Lofts:

Designed for artists who are committed to a life in the arts, A-Mill Artist Lofts has a number of shared work and studio spaces for use by the residents free of charge…. The shared work and studio spaces include:

Gallery

Performance/rehearsal center

Dance studio

Paint studio

Clay/pottery studio

Photography studio

Multimedia studios

Music practice rooms

Large flex studio

In addition to the numerous shared studio spaces, residents of A-Mill Artist Lofts have access to all the amenities of a modern apartment community including:

Rooftop deck

Rooftop clubroom

Fitness center

24-hour emergency maintenance

Yoga studio

Underground parking*

On-site storage lockers*

Controlled security entry access

SMOKE FREE Building

Pet free building available

Cats welcome in most buildings

Bike storage

Easy access to bike/hiking trails

Easy access to Stone Arch Bridge

*Additional fees will apply

Plymouth-based “affordable housing” developer Dominium got the contract for the $150 million renovation of the old mill. One a per unit basis, these Lofts cost $665,000 each to build and in a few short years,  Dominium will own the building and be free to demand market rents.

Here is how City Pages viewed the project:

The A-Mill Lofts are becoming the poster child for how easy it is to twist public subsidies for “affordable artist housing” into a commercial gold mine for developers.

When Plymouth developer Dominium rehabbed the old mill near St. Anthony Falls, taxpayers picked up most of tab through an assortment of grants and tax credits.

The result was a 251-apartment complex that cost $400,000 more per unit than the average affordable housing project, according to a University of Minnesota study. It’s now valued at $42 million. And in 13 years, Dominium can jack rents to its heart’s content.

A-Mill’s purpose is to provide cheap living for the artistic community. But this too comes with a very loose definition.

Meet Taylor Huggett, an analyst for Dominium, one of the nation’s largest affordable housing developers.

When his work day is done, the son of Dominium Vice President Jeffrey Huggett retires to his top-floor apartment at A-Mill, where rent starts at $900-a-month. “At least one member of the household” must “be approved as an artist in order to qualify.”

One doesn’t have to make a living through artistic creation, according to Dominium, “but must be able to demonstrate a commitment to it.”

If the junior Huggett falls under that broad definition, he must be doing it on the sly. His background shows Theta Chi fraternity membership at Arizona State University, where he received a bachelor’s in communications in 2012. He’s also an Edina High grad.

But his artistic endeavors, at least publicly, amount to a Facebook video that stars people partying and singing a once-popular ditty by Blink 182.

Taylor Huggett didn’t respond to repeated messages seeking comment. However, Dominium spokesperson Darin Broton says Huggett met the income qualification, which means he makes no more than $36,420.

As for the Huggett junior’s artistic passion, “My understanding is that he’s a vocalist, a singer,” says Broton.

It would be interesting to figure out who got leases in the building besides the son of the developer.

If this is not public corruption, I do not know what is. The idea and execution of these Artist Lofts mock hard working people, honest people. Why not build housing for lawyers working as public defenders or social workers working for non-profits? Why stop at artists? And aren’t we troubled that the government gets to decide if you are an artist with the right “commitment” to qualify for a loft?

This is the same kind of egocentric atmosphere that lead well-connected officials to think they could commandeer several suites at U.S. Bank Stadium as their private party rooms. Or billionaire owners to get tax breaks for sports stadiums. Is Minnesota’s elite, which includes the Star Tribune editors who chose to lead with this story, living so deep inside their own bubble that they cannot recognize a breach of the public trust?  (You can read the article here if you can stand it.)

This is not the first time I have written about the A-Mill Artists Lofts, nor will it be the last.

 

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