From a purely financial standpoint, Art Crossing was a bad investment.
But Phil Hughes doesn’t mind at all.
When Hughes came up with the idea for the row of art studios along the Reedy River across from the Wyche Pavilion, there wasn’t much reason for people to walk along that thin stretch of real estate.
Hughes, who runs the development company Hughes Investments, wanted to create something that would draw foot traffic to that space. But nothing was there other than a parking garage.
“Sure, we knew how to make the side of a parking garage pretty: plant ivy, design some nice lattices,” Hughes said. “But then we thought: Wouldn’t it be nice to take some of these parking spaces underneath this garage and just have places for starving artists to work from?”
Hughes envisioned it in his head. There’d be some roll-up doors, and the artists would work with their canvases, clay and other materials in the minimalist space, paying only for what it would cost to rent a parking space.
“But then we realized, nobody wants just some cheap roll-up door,” Hughes said. “They want lights, heat, a sink, a storefront. So then we had a bit of a challenge, I guess you could say.”
The challenge was: Hughes had already set his mind on the project. And he knew, practically speaking, that if he wanted to still charge the artists for the cost of a parking space, he probably wouldn’t be able to turn those spots into professional storefronts and still make his money back.
“It became a loss leader,” Hughes said, “but we still wanted it so bad.”
Years later, Hughes still hasn’t made his money back — not even close. By his estimate, it might take anywhere from 100 to 200 years for that to happen. But he looks at Art Crossing as one of the projects of which he’s especially proud.
“Look how beautiful if turned out, how lasting that is,” Hughes said, “and we certainly hope that adds to the culture here.”