After almost falling into urban oblivion, the 600 block of St. Petersburg's Central Avenue is having a coming-out party Saturday to celebrate its rebirth and look toward the future.
Business owners along the newly improved stretch of Central organized the block party as a way to reintroduce the public to what was once a thriving commercial district.
"I think it's important to let everyone know we're here,'' said John Vitale of Vitale Art Studio at 651 Central Ave.
The art studio is one of several businesses that have opened along the block in the past few months. Much of the north side had been vacant since 2006, when longtime businesses closed to make way for a $35 million condominium project that never happened.
Thomas Gaffney bought the site in 2008 and, at the city's urging, decided to turn it into an artist colony with affordable rents.
"It's the main drag coming into St. Peterburg,'' said Gary Burnside, the project's builder. "Before, it was really dark around here. People didn't even want to walk down the streets. Now, police are trying to work with us.''
Burnside has spent the past several months gutting the old storefronts and turning the 1926 Crislip arcade into small artist studios. New businesses range from MISRED Outfitters, a high-end used clothing boutique, to the Donna Gordon Gallery & Studio, which sells fine art and bronze sculptures.
About 40 shops and businesses are taking part in the block party, which will have food vendors and a stage for live music and a fashion show. Organizers will close off the street from 6 to 11 p.m.
A few businesses will celebrate their grand opening. The Local 662, a bar and live music venue, will open in the old Garage bar, and 1 of 1 Customs with Rasta, which paints on sneakers and clothing, will open at 659 Central Ave.
David Hundley, a part owner of Daddy Kool Records and the State Theatre on Central, said it's great to see more stores and fewer panhandlers.
"This used to be a quaint place before everything closed,'' he said. "If you came down here, you could find clothing, antiques, a little of everything. It was unique.''