PINELLAS PARK — Construction began this week on an empty lot of Park Boulevard but not on a shopping center or restaurant typical of the area.
It will be made from some unconventional building blocks: shipping containers.
The containers are being repurposed to make a gallery and apartment space for a local artist to serve as a gateway to the city's arts district budding in the 5600, 5700 and 5800 blocks of Park Boulevard.
"It gives us an opportunity to show that we can think outside the box," said Mayor Sandra Bradbury after the project's groundbreaking ceremony.
The project, expected to cost about $250,000, will use 8- by 40-foot containers that can be cut apart and fused together to make a functional space inside, said Wesley Osborne, a designer for idesign, the firm designing the project. The bottom floor will serve as a gallery and studio, and the top floor will be a two-bedroom apartment. Rent has not been determined, said Shannon Coughlin, the city's economic development manager.
The city is in the process of forming a selection committee to choose an artist to move into the space, said City Manager Doug Lewis. It will most likely be made up of city officials and leaders in the local creative community.
"We're looking for the gallery to be open most to all days of the week and generate traffic and interest in the area," he said.
The city started buying properties in the area in December 2012, Coughlin said. Since then, the area has become home to several small businesses, startups and galleries.
One of them belongs to Clayton Swartz, a sculptor originally from Miami. Swartz moved into a gallery space at 5609 Park Blvd. because his home and work studio are in Pinellas Park, and he wanted to get in on the ground floor of the district.
Since he opened his gallery in June, Swartz said the renovations and cleanup done to the area have made it more inviting to passers-by, something he thinks the shipping container building can only help with, he said.
"When you drive by, it definitely will catch your attention and make you want to pull over and see what's what," he said.
That is one of the benefits of construction from shipping containers, Osborne said. Designers can add finishes, such as wood or concrete paneling, to make them fit in with, or stand out from, their surroundings.
That adaptability makes the containers prime building materials for several projects, including apartment complexes, student housing and entertainment venues, said Robert Cox, another designer at idesign. It's also cheaper to build with in some cases. The designers said container buildings costs about $90 to $130 per square foot for construction as opposed to $150 to $180 for conventional construction of comparable quality. Plus, the containers are made out of the same steel that bridges are made from, so they surpass building requirements, Cox said.
For the Pinellas Park site, Cox and Osborne said they envision the container building as a reflection of the district's vibe.
"We're going with the refined, industrial look," Cox said.
Artists interested in living in the building can contact the city's community development department at (727) 369-5840.
Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @kathrynvarn.