DUNEDIN — The economy may be sputtering along, but for one venue, it's full speed ahead.
The Dunedin Fine Art Center is opening a new "Cottage Campus," at Weaver Park on Broadway Boulevard in Dunedin, where some new fall classes begin Monday.
And Thursday, the center signed a $1.5 million construction contract to remodel and expand the main campus at 1143 Michigan Blvd. in Highlander Park.
By Friday, contractors were already on site installing construction fencing, said Ken Hannon, the center's associate executive director.
While many industries and businesses struggle, the arts continue to have strong appeal — at least at this center.
"Today," Hannon said, "people are looking to get more out of their money. If you're a member, that translates to $108 for 18 hours of instruction for an enjoyable leisure time activity. That's a pretty darn good value."
Others seem to agree.
Class registration has grown 20 percent over the past four years, at the rate of 5 percent per year.
Now the center is moving on ways to accommodate and nurture its growing crop of artisans.
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The 1921 bungalow, situated under a large shade tree, boasts a view of St. Joseph Sound in the front and a large porch in back.
One can almost see the plein air artists gathered there for inspiration.
The pale yellow abode also will house printmaking, stone carving and wood turning classes. It will be the center's second offsite venue, the Stirling Hall Campus on Broadway being the first.
The Fine Art Center has a license agreement with the city to hold classes there rent-free; the center will be responsible for utilities and general maintenance of the building.
To help ready it for its new mission, the Kiwanis Club of Dunedin painted the inside and out in bright cheerful colors.
This week instructors and others were busy installing tables, an etching press, shelves and other equipment for the new fall classes.
Recent improvements — a ramp and retro-fitted bathroom — make the cottage ADA compliant. Parking has also been added.
"We have a wonderful partnership with the Fine Art Center and this will help give the park more usage," said Vince Gizzi, the city's parks and recreation director. "It keeps the building from being vacant."
The main campus in Highlander Park opened in 1974 with about 3,000 square feet. Subsequent expansions took place in 1980, 1988 and 1998; now the facility has grown to 18,813 square feet.
This week the center signed a $1.5 million contract with J. Kokolakis Contracting Inc. of Tarpon Springs to renovate and enlarge the building to 23,286 square feet.
That's a "nice bump of almost 25 percent," Hannon wrote in an e-mail.
The original 3,000-square-feet portion of the building will be torn down and rebuilt; almost 4,500 square feet more will be added.
"It's going to be a green building; we hope it will be LEED certified," Hannon said.
A new youth education wing will include a children's hands-on museum, more studios and a youngsters' art gallery.
The clay studio labs will be expanded to include a new kiln room.
The city owns the building, but all renovations are paid for through private funding, Hannon said. The project is expected to be completed by May 2011.
A second phase is already being planned for 2014.
"That," Hannon said, "will give us considerably more space, which we anticipate needing as we project growth and population demographics into the future."