ST. PETERSBURG — The 500 and 600 blocks of Central Avenue are going to get some new neighbors that will give the street quite a different look.
Regions Bank has bought a building at 526 Central Ave. across from the Florida Craftsmen gallery. One block up, at 627 Central Ave., a sculpture of a horse, about 10 feet tall, made from scrap metal and chains, is being installed as public art.
Let's just hope there's no army inside.
Sculptor James Oleson donated the horse that will saddle up in front of Dazzio Art Experience. Oleson teaches there and has his own gallery a few doors down.
Regions Bank paid $1.8 million for the 8,000-square-foot building that has formerly housed a jazz club, a restaurant, a cigar lounge and real estate offices.
"This purchase is part of our ongoing commitment to having a presence in downtown St. Petersburg," said Mel Campbell, spokesman for the bank based in Birmingham, Ala. He declined to give any further details, including what buying the 97-year-old building means for the bank's existing downtown location a few blocks away at 260 First Ave. S.
If it is renovated and made into a bank branch or offices, it will join other restaurants and stores on the street that are changing the look of the block. The 600 block of Central Avenue has already undergone a renaissance of sorts as artists and retailers have cleaned up storefronts and filled the spaces with galleries and shops.
"It's a place that's really an up-and-coming scene. I want to be a part of this kind of movement," said Oleson, who would sell a similar sculpture for about $20,000. "I hope this will be something to stop and look at for everybody going to Dalí and Chihuly."
The horse now stands on its 7-foot legs in front of Brooksville City Hall near Oleson's studio where he forges and welds his art. It's been there for about 18 months, but Oleson wants to give it a fresh audience. He will offer another piece to Brooksville.
He grew up drawing and painting but was drawn to sculpting partly by his grandfather Bud Oleson, whose metal horse sculptures live as public art in the grass along Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard. The younger Oleson works mostly with recycled steel and found objects.
"I find some in junkyards and sheet metal shops," he said. "A lot of people give me things because they know what I do. They bring me goody buckets."
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at (727) 409-3642 or [email protected]