When executive director Katee Tully of the Morean Arts Center recently announced that a permanent collection of Dale Chihuly's world-famous glass art was, indeed, coming to St. Petersburg, most of the speculation concerned what exactly the art, which Tully said will be valued at $6 million, would be.
But the museum-quality gallery housing it at 400 Beach Drive NE in downtown St. Petersburg could be almost as interesting. The 10,000-square-foot space is on the first floor of a high-rise condominium building. Work has begun on the project, owned and managed by the arts center and to be called the Chihuly Collection. It's scheduled to open July 4 weekend.
The center is not yet releasing interior renderings but the exterior is a promising introduction, designed by Tampa architect Albert Alfonso.
"Dale and I have been working on this for five years," Alfonso said. "We're toning down the Mediterranean design of the exterior with a new facade that references the Seattle vibe (where Chihuly lives) which is so different from here." Tully said they plan to have at least one Chihuly sculpture outside in the entrance area.
Warm woods, brushed metal and polished stone will be predominant materials. The entrance will extend out as a porte cochere that will include a ticketing area. Windows beneath a covered portion formed by second-story balconies will be bumped out to form small galleries inside, "for more intimate moments," Alfonso said, to display Chihuly's smaller vessels.
Chihuly's signature sculptures, made from hundreds of blown-glass components, can soar up triple-story atriums. This space has 15-foot ceilings that preclude such vertical drama so Alfonso said the "heroics" will be more horizontal.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.