SAFETY HARBOR — It's to be a cultural meeting place, a venue for local artists and a dynamic piece of art itself. An arts and music center planned for near downtown Safety Harbor was the main attraction at Monday night's City Commission meeting.
Dozens of citizens filled the commission's chambers to show their support. Commissioners gave unanimous approval to a site plan for the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, allowing the owners of the property at 706 Second St. N to move forward with the privately funded project.
Mayor Andy Steingold summed up the consensus after the vote: "A community is not a community without culture."
The center is the brainchild of the property owners — Safety Harbor artists Todd Ramquist and his wife, Kiaralinda, who goes by only her first name.
The couple see the center as a nexus for artistic impressions.
"People will be able to see and make art, film, music and theater," Ramquist said.
The center will be an expansion of the one-story, aqua-colored home with a lavender front door. The 930-square-foot home, built in 1921, is known as the Rigsby House, after a Safety Harbor family that goes back generations.
Clyde Rigsby, 86, was born and raised in the house, and says he's happy with the plans for the art center. It's great for the community, he said.
The plans call for a second story to be added to the renovated home, along with a pavilion attached to the west side of the home that will serve as exhibition and performance space.
The result will be a 2,329-square-foot home for Safety Harbor's arts community.
Ramquist and architect Grant Genova hope to break ground by mid fall, with the first events taking place next spring. Before construction can begin, they need to finish building designs and obtain all the necessary permits.
Ramquist and Kiaralinda are applying for a chance to win a $50,000 grant this week through the Pepsi Refresh Project, a philanthropic program that has been funding community projects since early 2010.
They had applied in December, hoping to be accepted and be put to an online public vote in January. A technical glitch during the processing of their application prevented their participation in January. They said they're poised to re-enter, rally the community and garner enough votes to win the grant.
Community members have already shown interest. Ramquist said several local residents have already volunteered to help get the center up and running, offering their time and elbow grease.
"We are really appreciative of how many people in the community want to come and help with the project," he said.
Ramquist said the project would move forward even without the grant, through the support of private donors. He said a nonprofit organization is being set up to administer the center.
Resident Carol Zieres, 51, said the center will add to city's charm and attract outsiders. "It's a nice way to welcome people into your community," she said.
Local artist Michelle Santee-Tupps, 44, said an arts and music center will bring the members of the community together, regardless of background.
"It's bringing a heartbeat to the city," she said, "and an interesting rhythm to the city."