Ten years after the first residents moved in, we check in with the valley’s original live-work community.
By Lila Edythe
Photography by David Agnello
rchitect Stephen Dynia’s West Jackson Metro Plateau project is not extraordinary design. That’s not being critical of Dynia. He says exactly these words himself less than five minutes into our conversation about Metro Plateau, which includes his own 2,000-square-foot office space and thirteen 2,000-square-foot live-work condos on the side of East Gros Ventre Butte: “I don’t consider this project to be extraordinary design,” he says.
While not extraordinary design, the Metro Plateau condos, which were completed in three stages between 2011 and 2017, are thoughtful and functional design executed creatively and affordably. Metro Plateau was the valley’s first multi-unit live-work development. The first four condos were built for $110 per square foot in 2011. Five additional units were added in 2013. The four final condos were finished in 2017. Also included in the development is a 2,000-square-foot office space that is home to Dynia Architects.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term “live-work,” it means a space designed for living and for working. At Metro Plateau, each of the thirteen condos has a 1,000-square-foot ground floor (work) and 1,000-square-foot upstairs loft (live). The vision for the project went beyond merely people living above their businesses, though. “At the time we started, there were one-off live-work projects here, but not yet multiple ones that were their own community,” Dynia says. “We wanted [Metro Plateau] residents to be that live-work community.”
Live-work spaces in Jackson Hole are not without controversy. Following Metro Plateau were Pine Box, a seven-unit live-work development on Alpine Way adjacent to Powderhorn Park, and Farmhouse, a fifteen-unit project on South Highway 89 near Jackson Whole Grocer. Detractors argue that some live-work units, especially in Pine Box, are used wholly as work spaces and do nothing to help alleviate the shortage of affordable workforce housing, which was part of the reason these projects were approved.
But without Metro Plateau, Samuel Singer, the founder of Wyoming Stargazing, a nonprofit that rents in the development, wouldn’t be able to hire summer staff. “Last summer I had three people I wanted to hire, but none of them could find a place to live,” says Singer, who had been living in the upstairs loft himself. “I moved out of upstairs and offered it to them.” Wyoming Stargazing uses the ground floor as its headquarters and storage for most of the gear it needs to do more than 200 stargazing programs annually, some of which are free to the public.
Adjacent to Wyoming Stargazing, photographer Todd Williams lives and works. He travels often to shoot on location for clients including Indian motorcycles, Polaris Industries, Citibank, and Gatorade, but he also uses his condo’s ground floor as a photography studio and editing space. “These spaces were designed to be modern and very raw—there’s lots of concrete, steel, and glass. They’re easy to customize, are efficient, and have the feeling of a modern loft in a city.” Williams says he likes the last attribute especially: “I’ve got these big windows that feel like they should be overlooking a city, but instead I look out and see nature and Snow King.” And as nice as the views are, “We are a little community up here,” he says.
Scott Anderson moved into Metro Plateau last summer and built five sound studios on his condo’s ground floor that he uses to do radio work. Anderson says he liked the development because he needed a place he could live and also build out as a work space. Since moving in, he has come to appreciate the condo for other reasons: “It is like a little island up here. It’s not down in town or out in the county. When people first come up here their reaction is usually, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is up here.’ It’s not a living situation you’d expect to find in Jackson.” Also, from his big, south-facing front windows, Anderson can see the radio towers on top of Snow King. “That’s what I like to look at, and it’s not a view you normally get anywhere else,” he says.
As unusual as Metro Plateau’s residents say it is for the valley, it is like every other neighborhood here in an important way: “Our unofficial mascot is a dog,” Williams says. Singer’s girlfriend’s dog Telly comes to work with Singer every day and “knows everyone up here,” Singer says. “She is the real connective tissue in the community.”