Downtown’s Arts Factory gets a much-needed face-lift

Renovation work continues at the Arts Factory.
Photo: Steve Marcus

The first day, we took down that black fencing,” Jennifer Cornthwaite says of the exterior remodel of the Arts Factory, now in progress. “And we thought, why wasn’t this done 10 years ago?”

That particular question might be unanswerable, but it’s no mystery as to why that black fencing—which ran the length of the property’s north side along Boulder Avenue, and for a short stretch adjacent to the building on Charleston Boulevard—has been taken down: It doesn’t belong there anymore. The neighborhood isn’t what it was 10 years ago; there’s no longer a need to barricade the venerable gallery, retail and dining complex against its surroundings. And this rehab—reportedly budgeted between $250,000 and $300,000—is designed to bring the Arts Factory into the present.

“We’re trying to squeeze every penny we can out of [a remodel of] a building that hasn’t been properly maintained,” says Cornthwaite, who oversees daily operation of the Arts Factory for property owner Jonathan Kermani. “This building is going to get a little cleanup.”

The first stage of the project, which Cornthwaite says will be complete by August’s First Friday, will replace the property’s asphalt parking lot with Pavestone bricks—still usable for parking, but much better-suited to the venue’s frequent outdoor events than cracked blacktop. The bricks will come right up to the sidewalks on both sides of the building, now free of fences. Almost overnight, the Arts Factory will become a more approachable building.

The next phase involves improvements to the facade of the decades-old building. “We’re skimming parts of the building that are broken,” Cornthwaite says—repairing dead lights and conduits, completing a skirt around the roof of the building, replacing signage and coating the entire building in fresh paint.

In a strange way, the building already looks better, even covered in scaffolding. The giant vinyl banner that once covered nearly the whole of the building’s eastern face—the one that advertised Urban Lounge, Tacos Huevos and other Arts Factory businesses—has been removed, revealing one of the building’s past lives by way of a hand-painted logo for Shaw Sign Company. (“Highway Signs, Complete Service.”) Cornthwaite says the old sign can’t be preserved but promises that the Arts Factory’s new sign will be more painted Shaw than plastic sheet. “No more vinyl signs that aren’t supposed to last longer than 30 days,” she says.

This isn’t the first time Kermani has spent money refreshing the Arts Factory. “A lot of money has been spent that you can’t see,” Cornthwaite says. But this refresh will be visible—and it’s meant to last. “I hope that when you Google the Arts District in five years, a photo of this beautiful building comes up,” Cornthwaite says.

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