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First tenant moves into Waukegan’s Karcher lofts

Waukegan  Saturday  12/15/12   

Artist Eric Marst(Left back camera) moves inhis new home Karcher Artspace Lofts Saturday

Waukegan Saturday, 12/15/12 Artist, Eric Marston (Left, back to camera) moves into his new home at the Karcher Artspace Lofts Saturday morning. (Helping him, is Waukegan city spokesman, David Motley.) | Brian O'Mahoney~for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: February 16, 2013 2:30AM

After five years, the $14.5 million Karcher Artspace Lofts, which has transformed an ugly eyesore into a new downtown Waukegan location, saw its first tenant move in.

“I love it. It’s a dream come true,” gushed Eric Marston, 59, an artist and furniture designer, from his ninth floor one-bedroom apartment which has a commanding view of downtown Waukegan.

“I looked all over the Internet for a studio. This is a real blessing,” he said as he moved his belongings into the cozy spacious apartment which features a 14-foot high ceiling, a living area with brand-new kitchen appliances, a bedroom and a bathroom with a full bath.

“This is what I wanted, a live-in work place,” added Marston of his top-floor apartment. He attended the Academy of Art College in San Francisco and served in the Coast Guard.

Moving in of the first tenant was celebrated by an open house Saturday with a band and refreshments in the lobby, which still needs final touches.

“I feel honored to be the first occupant,” said a beaming Marston. He had been renting in a rooming house two blocks away.

Vanessa Harris, accompanied by her mother, Ann Jones, came to sign a lease for a one-bedroom apartment on the fifth floor.

“I can’t wait to move in,” said Harris who works in children’s references at the Waukegan Public Library.

Karcher Artspace on Washington Street is a mixed-use arts facility with 36 affordable-housing units from one-bedroom to three-bedroom apartments. Depending on size and location, rents range from $350 to $850 per month, plus utilities.

So far, 17 have been rented, according to Kimberly Moore, asset manager. Also available is street-level commercial space for what she calls “arts-friendly businesses” like a cafe.

“Twenty-six have applied. Seventeen have been accepted,” said Moore.

Applicants must be artists and meet a minimum income limit which, as a rule, must not exceed two times the monthly rent amount. For one person, the maximum yearly income is $26,550. For two people, it is $30,350.

Eligible artists could be performers, visual artists, musicians, designers, photographers and writers. Minorities are encouraged to apply. Background and criminal checks will be made, so are rental references and credit qualifications.

The opening of the extensively renovated Karcher Artspace not only has given the former hotel a new lease in life, but also given support to the art galleries that have mushroomed in downtown in recent years.

Artspace, a non-profit organization based in Minneapolis, which bills itself as the leading developer for arts, acquired the former 140-room Karcher Hotel in 2007 from its owner for $730,000, according to Sarah Swingley, project manager.

Karcher, which opened in 1928, stood vacant since 1984 after a fire. Artspace owns and operates 32 projects across the country, including ones in Chicago and Elgin. It currently has 13 in development.

In addition to the lobby, which will have a computer room and hopefully a café, residents can enjoy the use of a huge new deck on the third floor which will be furnished with lawn furniture in summer, according to Moore. The walls in the building will be hung with paintings by resident artists, said Moore. The lobby and common areas like the elevators will also be used to display artworks.

Funding for the $14.6 million Karcher project included $675,000 in loans from Lake County; $10.6 million in Illinois and federal low income housing and historic tax credits; and $675,000 in deferred developer fees and equity, according to Swingley. Artspace also carries a $650,000 first mortgage on the Karcher.

Architect for the redevelopment is 4240 Architecture of Chicago with Pepper Construction as the general contractor. A grand opening is planned for April.

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