– By EDWARD D. MURPHY

Staff Writer

PORTLAND – Officials from the country’s leading nonprofit developer of art spaces will tour Portland today and meet with residents as they size up the city for a possible project.

Three representatives from Artspace plan to tour the St. Lawrence Arts Center on Munjoy Hill, the former Portland Public Works garage on Portland Street and several properties around Hampshire and Federal streets that are owned by billionaire hedge fund manager S. Donald Sussman, the husband of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine.

Artspace, based in Minneapolis, owns and operates 30 projects around the country. It generally develops buildings to provide living and work space for artists on upper floors, and office and meeting spaces on ground floors.

“They have a model that works, and we’re essentially asking the question ‘How do they do it?’” said Jennifer Hutchins, executive director of Creative Portland Corp.

Hutchins said her organization raised the $12,000 to cover Artspace’s fee for the visit and expenses. The Artspace officials will tour the buildings and drive through Bayside and along Commercial Street, where there are other potential sites for a project, and meet with several groups as part of their assessment of Portland.

The Artspace officials will also host a presentation on what the organization does, starting at 6 p.m. in the Rines Auditorium at the Portland Public Library.

The result of the visit will be a “preliminary feasibility study” for an arts-based development, said Wendy Holmes, Artspace’s senior vice president for consulting and strategic partnerships, one of the three officials who are in Portland.

Holmes said the group will gather information on potential sites, the breadth and depth of the arts community, the prospects for funding, civic leaders’ willingness to support the effort, and the city’s overall concept of the type of arts community it wants.

Funding comes from donations, grants, tax incentives, conventional financing and other sources, according to Artspace.

“We think of Portland as an arts city already, but there has been some displacement of artists from the core city neighborhoods, and that’s where we can play a role,” Holmes said.

Sussman is potentially interested in an arts component to his effort to redevelop the India Street neighborhood, said Tom Federle, a lawyer working with Sussman.

“His motivation isn’t a profit-driven motivation, it’s what can we do that will have the greatest impact?” Federle said of Sussman.

Federle and Hutchins came up with the idea of having Artspace check out the city, and vice versa.

“There’s a real interest in our sizing them up as well,” he said, to make sure that any project they would be involved in would fit with the city’s, the arts community’s and Sussman’s general ideas for development.

Hutchins said that if Artspace isn’t interested in handling the development itself, it also offers consulting to help developers create arts-based projects.

Artspace’s only current project in New England is in Bridgeport, Conn., Holmes said, although it recently concluded a site visit in Boston, toured the mills in Biddeford in April, and is expected to visit Northampton, Mass., soon.

Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

[email protected]