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OSF sets stage for new apartments

For decades, members of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival company have been housed throughout the city of Ashland, renting 112 apartments or living in houses paid for by OSF, a situation of gross inequality and inconvenience, they say, some with laundry, bathtubs, proximity to the festival, some without.

All that is about to change, following a groundbreaking Thursday at Lithia Way and First Street where a four-story, cube-shaped structure with 34 residential units will be built. OSF will lease the building for 25 years, and it will be occupied only by OSF people — with the ground floor set aside for OSF commercial offices.

At a “golden shovel” groundbreaking, OSF officers said the dorm, which will be completed at the end of 2020, will help them attract actors and visiting artists, provide a centralized hub of creativity, and will have the upside of freeing 34 rental units to the tight Ashland rental market.

“It’s an opportunity for greater diversity of places to live for our artists, some of whom have been here 25 years,” said Nataki Garrett, OSF artistic director, at a gala outdoor event.

“It’s a place for them to feel safe, to access work, the places where they spend their money, and the places where they enjoy Ashland,” Garrett said. “Angus Bowmer came here (in the 1930s to create OSF) because it’s a place for artists.

“My big hope is that other artists can afford to come here and evolve the landscape of Ashland. OSF is a big thing here, but it’s not the only thing here. Providing affordable housing allows other artists to be drawn here. That’s the biggest gift of this space.”

In the 25-year contract, rent can increase only 3% a year, compared with 10% in the city at large, said OSF Company Manager Tara Kayton, who oversees housing. All units will be the same, with bathtubs, laundry on each floor, pet-friendly, and “it will all be new and amazing. It will offer safety and be well lit. There will be no more walking home alone through the park at night.”

The stable rent will enhance a more stable economy for the town, she added.

The units will be one bedroom, with four that are two-bedroom to support couples, she noted. Bathtubs are important, as “actors’ bodies are their instrument, and being able to soak is everything.”

Kayton adds, “It’s great for OSF’s future to attract high-quality actors and be easily accessible to work.”

Cristofer Jean, a 15-year actor with OSF, said, “I’m sure it’s going to be a great place to live and a great collecting point for actors, and an exciting hub and conduit for creativity. A lot of songs and plays get written after work, so there’s bound to be a lot of exciting creative tension around here, a lot of computers and guitars writing the next scene and song, with open mic — and you get that downtown feel.”

Speaking to a crowd of 200, Acting OSF Executive Director Paul Christie said, “It’s going to be amazing and create a sense of space we haven’t had in a long time. Creating space creates lives with a sense of community. It will change the nature of this street and community, and we’ll be delighted to call it home.”

Architect Jerome White of Kistler, Small + White in Ashland said the city didn’t want them to design “one big building,” so they shaped it as “workforce housing,” to look like two, with in-and-out street facade and balconies.

Tom Walker of Adroit Housing, the builder, said the environmental features include bringing 34 people downtown so they don’t need cars — and making the structure “solar ready,” so “OSF may add that,” though there are no plans for it now. The building will be made to LEED certification standards, but not rigidly, and “we’re not going out and buy a LEED plaque to hang.”

The building will be occupied in January 2021, in time for that year’s opening.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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1007035369 OSF dorms.jpeg