More than 28,000 vehicles a day rumble down Adamo Drive on Ybor City's southern edge, passing industrial buildings, strip clubs and the underbelly of an expressway.
They don't see the brick streets or smell the cigars. Even if they hear the streetcar bell, they have no idea where it's headed.
Soon, that's about to change.
An ambitious project is under way to paint a massive mural on the side of a steel fabrication plant. Once completed this summer, the 12,600-square-foot artwork promises to be the largest public mural in Florida and depict the heritage and culture of Ybor, said the artist, Michael Parker. It will welcome people to Ybor and transform the look of Adamo's west end.
"People are going to park their cars and just stare at this thing,'' said David Scott, chairman of the Ybor City Development Corp. "I fully expect it to become a tourist destination. It's very exciting.''
Parker hasn't revealed many details of the mural, partly to create some surprise but also because it's evolving. The Barrio Latino Commission overseeing Ybor's historic district recently issued a certificate of appropriateness for the project, and the city's public art program planned to sign off on the design this week.
Crews finished priming the building recently and hoped to start penciling in the design grid next week. Parker, along with about 30 college students and community members, will do the painting over the next two to three months.
Scott started working on the project more than two years ago after retiring from the Air Force. He wanted to do something for his community and considered Ybor, with its deep immigrant roots, representative of what it means to live in the United States.
"I looked at Ybor City and felt we could do much, much better. It's great that we have an entertainment district, but everything else had kind of withered away,'' he said. "I asked myself, 'What can we do to get the balance back?' ''
Scott, 57, raised $30,000 from public and private sources, including the city of Tampa's public art program, Kimmins Contracting Corp. and the Columbia Restaurant. In-kind donations from Sherwin-Williams, Kevin Schwiekhart, Corrosion Specialties Inc. and Ring Power Corp. covered the paint, prep work and equipment.
Organizers selected Parker to design and paint the mural, roughly 35 by 350 feet, on Fabricated Products of Tampa, at Adamo and 17th Street.
Parker, 34, has done several public murals, most notably two in Sulphur Springs' Rowlett Park and another in Ruskin, where he has a studio. He helped with the fundraising and formed a community art class at Hillsborough Community College's Ybor campus in January to work on the design.
Beyond the sheer size of the mural, the canvas itself poses challenges. The building is made of corrugated metal, rather than smooth concrete, and has a scalloped, irregular-shaped top. The artists will have to paint from scaffolding or cherry pickers because the wall starts 8 feet off the ground.
Scott described it as a "real heroic effort.''
Parker will spray, roll and hand-paint the mural using 70 to 80 coats of paint. It should last at least 15 to 20 years, thanks to a power washing and coat of primer applied to the original, rusted surface.
Long before sketching a design, Parker solicited input from the community. He led public workshops on mural-making and brainstormed ideas with different groups. To research a story about freedom fighter Paulina Pedroso, he bought a pair of vintage underwear from La France. Of course, he sampled a lot of Cuban sandwiches.
The class of 12 HCC students did much of the background work for the design. They interviewed Ybor business owners and residents and set up an online survey about Ybor and what it means to people. The idea of "embracing'' emerged as a common theme.
"We've done a lot of the research and saw the process,'' said Cassandra Thomas, a 23-year-old art student who wants to work in art therapy. "There's a sense of pride to be part of something that's bigger than yourself. It's more than just a class for a lot of us.''
The finished product will become a gateway to Ybor and go a long way toward improving the area's image.
"I used to have to tell people coming to my office to turn right at the strip club,'' said architect Larry Wilder, head of the city's art committee who owns a business on Seventh Avenue. "Now they can go to the mural and turn right.''
Welcome to Tampa postcard
You can't forget you're in Tampa, thanks to the postcard-inspired mural on Florida Avenue. The mural by Carl Cowden III went up in 2003 but was removed a few weeks ago because of old age. Motorists leaving downtown shouldn't despair. Cowden plans to repaint the mural on the same building at 1102 N Florida Ave. And this time it will go on a cement canvas, instead of brick, to extend its life. Each letter in the word Tampa has an iconic image of the city, from the Sulphur Springs water tower to the University of Tampa minarets. Over the years, plenty of locals have used it as a backdrop for photos and videos. Cowden appreciates all the attention it gets but cautions against trying to profit from it. Make posters or stationery of it, and he'll file a cease-and-desist order.
In Dunedin, pets aren't just part of the family. They are works of art. People paid $25 to $200 to have portraits of their four-legged friends painted on a mural outside Skip's Bar and Grill. Skip's owner and artist Anna Hamilton came up with the idea as a fundraiser for the Dunedin Doggie Rescue and ran out of space quickly. The Dogedin mural has about 600 dogs and cats of every size, color and breed, from collies to calicos. Most are mutts and about a third serve as a memorial for a pet that has died. People pass by daily to snap photos and point out their beloved pet. Hamilton, through the Murals for Mutts charity for pets, still has spots left on other murals around town, including one on the Gas Plant Antique Arcade in St. Petersburg, the Pinellas County Animal Services building in Largo and the Dunedin House of Beer. Hamilton also painted a small mural at Gaspar's Grotto in Ybor City.
"Exactly'' in Rowlett Park
Michael Parker was a young artist living in Sulphur Springs when he noticed a disturbing trend: Many of the neighborhood kids didn't go to school. So Parker reached out to six middle-schoolers and hired them to help create a mural at Rowlett Park's racquetball courts in 2004. The four boys and two girls looked to their own lives for artistic inspiration. The common denominator? All came from households led by women with no male role models. The 1,600-square-foot mural shows the students' mothers and grandmothers and the places they took them, from the playground to church. They named it Exactly because whenever people saw it, they asked, "Where are all the men?'' Their answer became the mural's title.
Old sewage tanks in Oldsmar
Take something ugly and make it beautiful. That was the thought behind a 2005 project to transform four former sewage tanks into art. Artists Carl Cowden III and Mike Massaro, with help from students and volunteers, painted the murals on tanks that had been turned into observation towers at the Mobbly Bayou Wilderness Preserve in Oldsmar. The murals depict the natural landscape and wildlife found in the area, from possums and butterflies to alligators and armadillos. "Whenever I see the side of a building that's not painted in a highly visible location, I see that as a potential canvas,'' said Jay Goulde, executive director of the Outdoor Arts Foundation, which coordinated the project.
Plant City mural
Plant City is known for its strawberries — and its downtown mural. Ask locals where to go in town, and they'll probably suggest the mural on Collins Street. Just have a seat on a bench and look. It's that nostalgic. Paul Hetrick painted the 14- by 70-foot mural in late 2009 depicting historical people and iconic city landmarks, including the train depot. The Heart of Plant City mural replaced a nearby mural from the 1970s that was damaged in a 2005 arson fire and demolished a few years later. The new mural was finished in time for the city's 125th anniversary in 2010. Buried at its base is a time capsule scheduled to be opened for Plant City's bicentennial in 2085.
CENTRAL AVENUE MURAL
The 600 block of Central Avenue in St. Petersburg has become an oasis of independent, artsy stores and businesses. Now it has a mural to match its colorful personality. Graffiti artist Jared "Thirst'' Hernandez, 26, recently painted a mural on the side of Foolish Pride Tattoo, 648 Central Ave., next to the Pabst Blue Ribbon artwork. He started work on it about a month ago and hopes to finish next week. Inspired by Hernandez's interest in comics and action figures, the mural shows Marvel Comics character Cable and scenes from the comic book. The mural is the latest example of graffiti art in the district, said Rasta Geary Taylor, owner of 1 of 1 Customs at 659 Central Ave. He and Hernandez painted a Dr. Seuss mural on the back of his custom-painted sneaker and
T-shirt shop and eventually hope to line the entire alley of the 600 block with graffiti-style murals. They also plan to paint the side of Wig Villa at 575 Central Ave. Farther east on Central, in the 2400 block, muralists painted Ghost of a Dead Samurai in 2010.