The Spencer Arts District provides an opportunity to kickstart implementation of complementary plans, such as the Riverfront Plan and the Toyer Economic Development plan, particularly in the immediate area around Gary’s and the Clay County Heritage Center.


With this designation, the Spencer Arts District provides a vehicle through which Main Street, the City, Arts District board, and others can identify potential underutilized properties throughout the district. In line with the recommendation from the Toyer plan, the city should provide a centralized online location of available properties, and the Arts District should include this information on the website with additional information specific to artists interested in converting space into studios or galleries.

Currently, there is at least one artist who has been frustrated with the process to find visible studio and gallery space in Spencer. The city should work with this artist and property owners on Grand Avenue to find a suitable studio space. Opening his studio will act as a signal to other artists that the Arts District can be a viable option for studio space.

Attracting this artist and others can be done through a variety of city roles seen in other arts districts, including:

  • Façade improvement programs, such as small grants with a cash match for historically accurate building façade renovations;
  • Property tax exemptions for rehabilitation or renovation to existing structures;
  • Tax abatements for eligible properties and uses;
  • Workforce Housing Tax Incentive (for residential build);
  • Revolving renovation loan funds;
  • Waived building permit fees;
  • Business license tax reductions for arts-related businesses.

In addition, the city should consider purchasing long-vacant storefronts and selling to artists in a lease-to-own arrangement, thereby increasing access to equity for artists and incentivizing creative re-use of vacant storefronts. Alternatively, the city should consider short-term leases or donated space for art installations in vacant storefronts, where the artist(s) can work with the Spencer Arts District to obtain event and liability insurance.

See Appendix K for information on Artists spaces in Cultural Districts.


If an RFQ will be created for new construction on Park Street, consider amending zoning requirements to allow for artist live/work spaces, or specify the inclusion of ground-level retail. Use the Spencer Arts District designation and marketing plan as a springboard for further development.


Currently the width and speed of Grand Avenue as well as the current state of Park Street do not encourage pedestrian traffic between Arts District organizations and destinations. In order to increase the amount of time spent per visit to the Arts District as well as cross-business patronage (SCT patrons eating at the restaurant, Arts on Grand patrons visiting Clay County Heritage), the city should work towards reclaiming Grand Avenue through a transfer of jurisdiction. In the meantime, Arts District staff should plan “pop-up” outdoor events in front of Gary’s, where the street is temporarily closed and vendors and musicians set up. This will both bring new visitors to the district AND provide an example of what is possible when spaces are walkable.

A complete streets guide is available in Appendix M



Complete inventory of available properties

City, Board of Directors

Follow Toyer guidance to create a centralized location of available properties, linked to or embedded in the Arts District website.

Fall 2019


Determine incentives suite for artist relocation and re-use

City, Board of Directors

Work with local artists and arts organizations to determine need and capacity, work directly with Jim Vermeer as a pilot for a larger program. Once successful, use Jim’s storefront as a model to recruit regional artists.

Winter 2019 / Spring 2020


Determine potential building use by the Spencer Arts District

City, Board of Directors

Identify program goals as District programs progress. Determine feasibility of any capital buildout costs, and engage with building owners to determine purchase price or phased-in, lease to own agreements.

Fall 2020 or later