Lawyer hopes to turn empty downtown Stockton lot into art gallery

ATTORNEY

The lawyer behind the project says he opened a different art center on Stockton’s Miracle Mile in 2017.

STOCKTON, Calif. — Surrounded by historic buildings but blocks away from some of Stockton’s newest ones, dried-out vegetation fills the 0.11 acre lot at 25 Grant Street.

The downtown property is mostly empty but the lot’s next-door neighbor, Stockton attorney Dru Hunt, hopes to change that.

“I want to have a gallery where the focus is displaying art and having an opportunity to come to see local artists and artists who may be coming through the community,” said Hunt. “And at the same time, having a space where we can do some of these activities, so both for the children and community in general.”

While being in the legal industry might seem black and white, Hunt is no stranger to color. He helped launch the Stockton Art Lab in 2017.

The Miracle Mile business was forced to close after its building was sold nearly five years after opening its doors.

“During the course of that, we offered (art) classes — first at no cost and then later at a minimal cost, targeting children, but ultimately being open to all ages — and over the course of those five years, we had over 10,000 (classes),” said Hunt. “I realized, based on that experience, that it was clearly something that the community needed, that there were a number of people who were wanting to have that in the community.”

Aside from seeing the impact of community art first-hand, Hunt draws inspiration from Hollywood, a place he briefly called home after graduating with a degree in film production.

“I moved down to Hollywood and worked on the television series Law and Order: Special Victims Unit for a number of seasons,” said Hunt, a former production and writing assistant. “So I’ve always been very involved in the arts.”

When Hunt moved his law firm downtown, he started to see the unused land near him as empty spots on the city’s downtown canvas.

“I moved downtown with the intention to open my law office there and during the course of being there, these vacant properties next to me were not being tended to,” said Hunt. “I think that area right there would be perfect. It’s extremely undeveloped, there’s a lot of warehouse space and the creative community in general tends to move to areas that are affordable.”

Hunt did research and met with city officials for three years after learning the property belonged to the city. Stockton purchased the land in 2002 to turn it into a parking lot.

The vision never became a reality and by 2019, a structure on the lot suffered a roof collapse resulting in a partial demolition, city documents show.

City officials deemed the land surplus and began talks with Hunt to buy it in 2021.

“The idea behind this is to change what the property is into something that’s useful and good for the community,” said Hunt. “I’ve crunched the numbers and it’s not an economic gain. The intention is not to gentrify the area or to somehow make a profitable business.”

The talks with the city led to an agreement allowing Hunt to buy the land for $30,000 minus the $25,188 in repairs the city estimated needed to be done.

Council members approved the $4,812 sale in a 4-1 vote during Tuesday night’s city council meeting.

“Hopefully this shows that change is possible,” said Hunt. “A lot of people would have given up because there’s a lot of government code, there’s a lot of things involved.”

With the land now secured, Hunt is moving on to the next steps of planning and developing. 

While he doesn’t know yet when shovels will go into the ground, Hunt says he hopes to move as fast as possible to bring more color to the blank spot on Grant Street.

“If we can take kind of the worst parts of downtown and turn them into something that’s good for the community, I think hopefully, that inspires other people to bring their passions to downtown,” said Hunt. “Let my project just be the first of many done by many different people.”

Watch more from ABC10: The future coming to Stockton’s Miracle Mile

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