Dunedin moves forward with plans to create downtown arts district

To develop a district downtown, the city signs a 5-year lease to rent space on Douglas Avenue to artists.
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DUNEDIN — Move over, St. Petersburg: If everything goes as planned, Dunedin will soon become a premier destination for art-minded people.

"St. Petersburg has dominated the scene," City Manager Rob DiSpirito said. "But there's a lot of great art being done in the north end of the county that people don't know about."

Dunedin's City Commission has approved a proposal that will pour thousands of dollars into a stretch of Douglas Avenue to create a downtown arts district.

The plan has been in the works for years, DiSpirito said. The city has long wanted to create a space for artists to produce and sell their work.

After the Imago Art Gallery burned down eight years ago, it became even more of a priority. The gallery had an artist cooperative with more than a dozen art studios.

Things started coming together after the city found out that Bill Coleman, director of the Institute for Creative Arts at 968 Douglas Ave., was struggling after a substantial increase in rent.

Coleman, a metal sculptor, shares his space with six artists.

The city's biggest question, according to DiSpirito: How could Dunedin develop a space where artists could afford to create and display their work?

The solution: Dunedin has signed a five-year lease for the 6,300-square-foot former cement plant that currently houses the Institute for Creative Arts. Dunedin will lease space to Coleman, other artists and the Dunedin Fine Arts Center. The city will cover utility costs.

Dunedin is paying close to $57,000 in rent in the next fiscal year, although the city hopes to recoup about $37,000 by leasing space to artists and others.

By next year, Dunedin Fine Arts Center's stone-carving and wood-turning art classes will relocate in the building from a cottage at Weaver Park.

"We've had such a long and wonderful partnership with the city," said Ken Hannon, the center's vice president. "It's a great fit."

Dunedin also has plans to move its downtown maintenance yard to the property, which will add another $20,000 in costs.

"It's a nice investment on our part, and it's a wonderful project," City Commissioner Bruce Livingston said during last week's meeting.

DiSpirito said the city has spent money making that stretch of Douglas Avenue more pedestrian friendly by adding a sidewalk, new paving and decorative sculptures.

"We've already set the stage," he said.

Commissioner Deborah Kynes, who was on the commission in the early 2000s, said the arts district plan is one of her favorite topics.

"It's been a long time coming," she said.

Kynes added that Douglas Avenue is already home to Dunedin Brewery, a woodworking shop and fun eateries and shops.

"It's going to be a really happening area," she said.

Coleman, who has lived in Dunedin for 38 years, said he's excited that city leaders are interested in expanding the city's art scene.

"We have a very quaint, unique town here," he said. "It's a good thing."

Contact Ayana Stewart at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153. Follow @AyanaStewart.

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