MARCO ISLAND — For years, the Artist Colony at the Esplanade has offered an open house at their galleries in the Esplanade, on the last Wednesday of each month. But the group has been notified by the landlord that they must vacate the spaces they have occupied to make room for potential paying retail tenants.
The cooperative of a dozen or so area artists has been given spaces at sharply reduced rents that otherwise would have sat empty for the last three years. In a tough environment for retailers and shopping centers, the arrangement was not uncommon. The Promenade at Bonita Bay is another upscale retail/restaurant complex that has offered space to artists to hang their works.
But the Artist Colony has been notified by the landlord, Continental Realty Corp. of Baltimore, Maryland, which purchased the commercial spaces in the Esplanade in April of this year, that by Oct. 1, they must vacate.
"Since we purchased the Esplanade we have received strong interest in renting space from a wide range of retailers," said J.M. Schapiro, CEO of Continental in an email. "We were able to offer deeply discounted space to these artists but we now have a number of tenants who are willing to pay market rents for the space and also would generate traffic for the center. We support the arts and have worked with MIFA to extend the left bank arts festival throughout this season."
Doug Olson of Cushman & Wakefield of Fort Myers, the leasing agent for the Esplanade, confirmed that deals are underway for the available spaces in the center.
"With the season around the corner, a lot of things are in the works," said Olson. "We do have commitments for paying tenants for all the spaces, but nothing we can announce at the moment."
"Three years is a good time," said Continental spokesman Larry Lichtenauer, referring to the length of the Artist Colony's tenure at the Esplanade. "It's better to have somebody there, but when they can add paying tenants, that's what they do."
The artists of the Artist Colony agreed. Nine of the group met Friday morning in the Rightside Studios, one of the spaces in question, to strategize on their next move.
"We want to thank everybody involved. We were able to celebrate three wonderful years here," said Tara O'Neill.
"This was fabulous for all the artists on the island," said Jo-Ann Sanborn. "Some of us didn't even know each other when it started. Now we're partners and friends. We're not sure what we'll do, but sometimes, change provides opportunity."
She is taking her own words to heart. Alone among the group, Sanborn is planning to stay on, for at least a period of time, paying a higher market rent for the Portside Gallery, the smallest of the spaces involved. "It's a leap of faith – but a short-term lease," she said.
Betty Newman reported to the group on possible alternative spaces, and said that any landlords who would take on the Artist Colony at less than full rent should contact them.
When the original leases for the various spaces were signed with the Antaramian Companies, the previous landlord, the landlord required an umbrella organization to co-sign the leases. The Art League, now known as the Marco Island Center for the Arts or Art Center, and the Marco Island Foundation for the Arts, fulfilled that role, and required that all artists participating belong to both organizations.
Lynn Holley, executive director of the Art Center, said the partnership with the Esplanade was great while it lasted, but might end up leading to an even better future.
"I think they did an incredible service to the culture of Marco Island, collectively and individually," she said of the artists of the colony. "We have thought about ways we could help them, possibly putting in modular studio spaces." The Art Center's long-range plan, she said, includes studios for local artists, where the public could see artists at work as well as viewing the various exhibits. They currently have one artist in residence, painter Mary Kane.
Meanwhile, the last "Last Wednesday" will be one to remember, promised the artists. The free wine and food have always attracted a good crowd, but this month, the colony plans to bring in a range of live entertainment, and offer many works of art at discounted prices.
"There will be a pretty good sale on some art," said Inez Hudson.
"Yeah, the fall blowout," added Lee Horton. The Last Wednesday Artwalk is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 26 from 5 to 8 p.m.
For more information on the Artist Colony, visit their website at http://marcoislandartistcolony.com.