Port of Walla Walla to create artists colony

Storage buildings at the Dell Avenue property will be converted into workshops.

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WALLA WALLA - A small cluster of storage buildings at the Port of Walla Walla's Dell Avenue industrial property will be made over into workshops for painters, glassblowers, woodworkers and more.

Port commissioners last week unanimously approved a motion to rehabilitate four buildings into workable space for creative minds.

Commissioners budgeted $40,000 for work at the storage units at 1310 Dell Ave. The intent is to create a small artists colony.

The idea came from Craig Keister, a downtown Walla Walla merchant who intends to be the first tenant.

Keister, owner of Mandrakes II, an antiques dealership on Main Street, plans to occupy two of the buildings at a cost of $350 per month each.

He told commissioners during their Thursday meeting the 1,000-square-foot structures will serve as ideal workspaces for artists in the community. He believes a more than 11,000-square-foot production shop near the buildings could also serve for more artistic businesses.

"These buildings - they're the perfect size. There's light, proximity to town," Keister told the three Port commissioners Thursday. "I think we could fill the whole space and maybe even the production shop."

Keister said he's been building more custom furniture since his business took a downturn in the recession. He believes others like him are out there and need space for their work as well.

"There are a lot of guys in their garages, in their attics and in their basements doing cottage industries," he said.

Port Commission President Mike Fredrickson said proceeding with the proposal was a "no-brainer."

The $40,000 will come from the Port's capital budget to buy 124 windows. The majority of those will be used at the four buildings, but others will be set aside for two other storage units attached to the production shop for a later date.

The rehabilitation will also include insulation needed at two of the buildings, metal sheeting for gable ends, repairing interior wall damage on one unit, painting, bathroom work and electrical needs, including separate meters for each building.

In addition to the $350-per-month rent, tenants would pay $44.94 per month in leasehold tax. With all four units rented, the Port would make around $19,000 per year.

"I think there's a great future for that whole property," Keister said.

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