But the new Artspace Commons is not exactly downtown. The modern complex, adorned with solar-panel awnings and lush patches of water-wise plants, sprouts from the old Utah Barrel and Scrap lot at 824 S. 400 West.
Flanked by industrial warehouses, the city's old fleet block and the Pickle Co. building, the area is quiet but a bit of a no-man's land.
Precisely where artists are drawn.
Opening in mid-September, Artspace's 102 affordable apartments and 50,000 square feet of artist-studio and nonprofit spaces are the exact recipe, officials say, to rejuvenate the so-called Granary District, south of The Gateway mall.
Stark at first glance, the building's cinder blocks and corrugated steel are more function than form. The energy-efficient materials play key roles in positioning Artspace for a gold LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. Sustainability, organizers bet, will help attract a creative class.
"We kept the building a blank pallet to let the artists add the color," Artspace Executive Director Jessica Norie says about the gray facade. "Our thing is to build an affordable space. But it's really our tenants and our residents that make it such a strong community. They're our creativity."
Nonprofits flock » Already, a diverse bunch of nonprofits has claimed ground-level corners at the new Artspace.
Sabina Zunguze, who owns A Gift to Africa, barely can wait to showcase her fair-trade crafts made by African women from eight countries, including Kenya, Uganda and Madagascar. Leasing space with a proven, progressive pioneer, she says, makes sense.
"The whole concept of being environmentally friendly goes with what I do," says Zunguze, who moves in Oct. 1. "It's an inspiration for me to be a part of them. They're not like your normal landlord."
Zunguze teaches African women how to launch business ventures and also works stateside with refugees from Sudan.
She will be joined at Artspace by TURN Community Services, a statewide nonprofit that offers group homes, respite and employment training for the developmentally disabled.
"We're looking forward to it," says Phil Shumway, TURN executive director. "It's a structurally safe building with lots of natural light. For our clients, it will be a comfortable place."
Bad Dog Rediscovers America, a nonprofit providing art mentoring for at-risk kids, also will call Artspace home. And Norie is negotiating with Wasatch Community Gardens about the prospect of adding an organic garden on the complex's south side.
Catalyst for change? » Just two blocks from a TRAX station, Artspace Commons also is bordered by the old railroad track on 400 West, which city officials picture as a future streetcar line. If it is built, it could ferry people from downtown -- and points beyond -- past the barely beating heart of the Granary District.
For years, there also have been redevelopment visions for the block directly east, which once housed the capital's public-transportation fleet.
"People have been talking about the potential of the fleet block for a decade," says City Councilman and Redevelopment Agency Chairman Luke Garrrott, who would love to see the block carved in halves for walkability.
The whole neighborhood, Garrott says, holds some of the city's highest hopes. "It's going to be a total blank canvas," he says. "And Artspace being there is great. It's a pioneering project."
With artist studios at the historic Pickle Co. catty-corner, and more in a funky building to the southwest, a burgeoning art community already has planted roots.
The new work-live commons also will eliminate some commutes. Some nonprofit employees plan to rent apartments upstairs, literally shouting distances from their workplaces.
A financial 'miracle' » So how did the nonprofit Artspace pull off one of the city's larger construction ventures in the midst of the Great Recession?
"That really was a miracle," explains director of development Jackie Skibine. "All the banks were collapsing. Credit was almost impossible to get."
Banks -- which ultimately financed half the $28 million price tag -- were lured by the "green" project and reputation of Artspace. After the property was purchased in the fall of 2007, the project deal closed in December 2008, in the jaws of the credit crunch.
Artspace raised $4 million and was buoyed by $10 million in federal New Markets Tax Credits, granted due to the sustainable features.
Green machine » Out back, beneath the rows of solar awnings, a boiler powered by solar cells heats the culinary water for Artspace and will provide some of the winter heat.
High-performance insulation, Energy Star appliances, nonemitting paints and low-water landscaping permeate the complex. There also are showers for the commercial spaces, sinks in each studio and bicycle storage just off the 800 South bike lanes.
But the living spaces are hardly cold, eco-friendly boxes. Each unit sports an open design, a view, hardwood floors, a granite countertop and a three-tiered pocket door for privacy.
While the city requires a silver LEED certification for public buildings, Artspace is in line for a gold rating.
"They just saw the value and the money they're going to save in the long run and decided to go for it," says Vicki Bennett, sustainability director for Mayor Ralph Becker. "We are just thrilled for any building like that."
Norie hopes to go further. She envisions a $2 million "solar garden" to shade the surface parking lot and generate another 200 kilowatts. Artspace hopes to fund half the expense through tax-credit financing.
"The lower our operating costs are, the lower we can keep our rents," she says. "It keeps it sustainable for us and our residents."
Green, the managers hope, is an artist's favorite color.
Rooms with a view -- and a vision
A rtspace by the numbers
28 » total cost in millions
102 » number of apartments
50,000 » square footage of nonprofit space and artist studios
25 » kilowatts of electricity generated by solar awnings
90 » percent of construction waste that was recycled
7 » number of years before rental units can be sold as condos
650 » monthly cost of 650-square-foot retail space
960 » monthly cost of two-bedroom, 950 square-foot unit
770 » monthly cost of one-bedroom, 700 square-foot unit
25 » percentage of leased apartments
A new, energy-efficient 102-unit Artspace Commons is scheduled to open Sept. 17 on the edge of downtown at 824 S. 400 West. Artist studios, affordable apartments, retail space and offices still are available. For leasing call 801-364-1019 or e-mail email@example.com