ST. PETERSBURG — Here's how dreams grow: Donna Gordon, sculptor, saw an article about low-rent studio space in the dilapidated 600 block of Central Avenue.
On Tuesday, she's opening Donna Gordon Gallery & Studio, a sleek bright space at 625 Central. Her studio's in the back.
Out front is her new passion. She's now a gallery owner.
"This is incredible," she said.
Up and down the block, entrepreneurs are pouring heart and money into historic spaces around Crislip Arcade. Seven new businesses are open, with 11 to follow. Thomas Gaffney, who bought the properties for $2.3 million in 2008 intending to bulldoze them, has instead fed City Council member Leslie Curran's vision of an artist colony.
Gaffney's contractors have replaced drywall, removed linoleum from historic hex floors, renovated ceilings, put in new air conditioning and rebuilt plumbing for bathrooms. Early adopters like Gordon and her neighbor two doors down, Sara Stonecipher of Misred Outfitters, dived in on details like paint colors for the block. The neighbors envision branding their stretch "the 600 Block" and embracing other streets in an arts district.
Although the rent is a great deal — Gordon put down a deposit to get a five-year lease at $5 a square foot, while neighbors without deposits pay $8 — she'll tell you it hasn't been cheap. Renters have invested in their own spaces, scraping old block floors, painting, adding lighting and building displays. She figures she has put in $10,000. Renters cover their own maintenance, insurance and electric bills. She estimates her costs at $10 a square foot. That's still nearly half the $22 most owners fetch for downtown retail space.
It will let her invest in her artists.
She's offering them 65 percent instead of a common 50-50 split of sales. In the gallery, Gordon's bronze sculpture joins colorful, whimsical works by Jack Barrett, Scott Moore, Gus Ocamposilva, Cecilia Lueza, Leslie Orgera and Andrea Pejack.
Gordon, 52, has reinvented herself before, from an investment manager to a full-time sculptor. That was a decade ago. Nudged by Curran to widen her sights to a gallery, she has jumped again — though the timing hurt. She and her husband, George Gordon, had just purchased Enporion, the Tampa company he runs. They're renovating a 1920s Spanish colonial in Jungle Prada.
Still, you'll find her in the back, from noon to 6 Tuesday through Saturday.
"I just realized it was the opportunity of a lifetime," she said.
Reach Becky Bowers at email@example.com or (727) 893-8859. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/bbowerstimes.