Hopkins put art in the heart of its downtown with the opening of the Hopkins Arts Center 20 years ago.

Now the city is looking to boost its creative center even more by building affordable housing and studio space for artists.

The Hopkins City Council on Tuesday entered into an agreement with Artspace, a nonprofit developer of "live-work" spaces for artists, to explore the possibility. Artspace would tour potential sites in early August and meet with local artists and community members to determine whether there is enough interest in such a project.

Hopkins Mayor Molly Cummings said it is an idea the city has tried to foster for years. Officials have previously asked other developers to look at building space for artists.

Minneapolis-based Artspace develops properties around the country. It owns more than a dozen buildings in Minnesota, mostly in the Twin Cities. In addition to Hopkins, Bloomington has also reached out to the organization with an interest in building live-work spaces for artists.

"Not everyone wants to live in Minneapolis or St. Paul," said Kersten Elverum, director of planning and development for Hopkins.

Wendy Holmes, senior vice president of consulting and strategic partnerships for Artspace, said a growing number of suburbs across the country are interested in supporting the arts and enticing creative people to stay.

"Having a space for artists is maybe a piece of that vibrancy that they actually want to have," she said.

Artspace's buildings are open to artists of many disciplines, including fine arts, performance art, and healing and heritage arts. It is able to keep rent for artists below market rate through both private and public funding sources.

Cummings said Hopkins is "fully built out," but she believed the city's Mainstreet corridor would be a prime location for artists. The city also recently closed off a section of Eighth Avenue to begin construction on a project called "the Artery." That corridor from Excelsior Boulevard to Mainstreet would feature sculptures, art rooms and other focal points.

"It's a little eclectic, it's a little gritty at times," Elverum said of Mainstreet. "I think those are all things that appeal to artists."