Springboard for the Arts has transformed a vacant used car dealership into a colorful, flexible hub for artists and neighbors.

This weekend, the nonprofit is celebrating its new home on University Avenue in St. Paul with tours, tunes and a poem written for the occasion. (Check out the schedule here.)

Artists have been holding events at this address for years, shaping how the space feels and functions.

Standing inside what once was the dealership's garage, Springboard's executive director Laura Zabel pointed to a doorway 20 feet off the ground. The architects' original plans called for closing off that "dangerous door to nowhere," Zabel said.

But artists realized that it would make a great DJ booth.

So Springboard left it, adding a railing and commissioning the artists Third Daughter, Restless Daughter to cross-stitch a floral design across it.

"Now, it's one of my favorite parts of this space," Zabel said.

Springboard counts some 200 groups and 6,000 people who have gathered at the defunct dealership since the nonprofit bought it in 2018 for $1.5 million. Zabel began dreaming of the property's possibilities after hosting a party in its parking lot in 2012, during construction of the Green Line light-rail.

The $5.25 million project reuses much of the building, with a bright-green, two-story addition on one side. A new elevator leads to a rooftop shaded by solar panels with a handsome view of the State Capitol.

The lead architect and designer James Garrett Jr. grew up in St. Paul and remembers the old Saxon Ford dealership well.

This project required "converting a 1980s car dealership — which is the antithesis of vibrant and dynamic and inviting — into something that will welcome an organization that is about community and inclusion," said Garrett, a founder of the firm 4RM+ULA.

Long located in St. Paul's Lowertown neighborhood, Springboard has in recent years gained national attention for its work with artists and its argument that they're key to building strong, equitable communities.

By hosting those conversations in this new headquarters, folks will be able to "see and touch the work," Zabel said.

Art pops up in every corner of the 8,000-square-foot building, which features workspaces, an equipment library, meeting rooms and a flexible performance space set to host Mixed Blood Theatre next month. Outside, colorful murals line new lawn and plantings.

During a virtual celebration Friday and in person Saturday afternoon, artists — many of them rooted in the neighborhood — will fete Springboard's new digs, with poet Hawona Sullivan Janzen reading, "Who We Were."

Performing the poem for video, she got misty-eyed, she wrote on Facebook: "Being an artist is hard, but having an organization like Springboard on our side makes a world of difference."