PINELLAS PARK — Derek Donnelly remembers the small town of his childhood, where hanging out at the Pinellas Square Mall was one of the only things to do.
It was a different world from the Pinellas Park the local artist moved back to last month to live in a gallery and upstairs apartment built out of seven shipping containers. The space, at 5705 Park Blvd., is part of what's now known as the Pinellas Arts Village in three blocks of studios, galleries and shops.
"It's definitely surreal," Donnelly, 33, said recently at the gallery. "I'm hoping this area will serve as a bridge between the creative communities."
The artist has coined his new digs the Donnelly COVE, or Creative Opportunities and Visual Entertainment. His move-in and the upcoming grand opening Dec. 17 during the monthly art walk marks the completion of the district's most prominent project, which broke ground about a year ago.
Donnelly got his start as an artist in downtown St. Petersburg about six years ago in a studio in the 600 block of Central Avenue called Saint Paint Arts. He said he didn't get much traffic at the gallery, so he and a group of local artists brought art outside by painting street murals, which have since grown in popularity in St. Petersburg and beyond.
Pinellas Park officials reached out to Donnelly after he painted a marine life mural on the side of Fins and Skins, an aquarium and reptile store on 49th Street. He brought together several artists to paint a mural during Better Block, a block party held last year to kick off the district, said Debra Rose, the city's library and cultural affairs administrator.
"He really contributed to the formation of the arts district from the very beginning and clearly was dedicated to the idea of developing that district," she said, "so he was a good match."
The bottom floor is made up of three containers and home to a bright, spacious gallery and studio space. The top floor, also made of three containers, is the apartment, which has a kitchen with concrete countertops, a large living room, a bathroom, a bedroom and an office space. The seventh container stands vertically with a display window facing Park Boulevard.
The city paid $250,000 for the project and serves as the landlord to Donnelly, who is paying $1,000 a month to live there. The space was designed by Wesley Osborne and Robert Cox, who own the architecture firm idesign as well as Sun Dog Structures, a business that manufactures and supplies the containers.
During construction, the project was featured on Container Homes, a series on HGTV. The episode, which Osborne and Cox said garnered about 3 million views and featured a network-created fictitious storyline about an entrepreneur named Miranda, put their business and Pinellas Park on the map when it comes to this kind of construction.
"We're finding opportunities for this work throughout Florida and beyond," Osborne said.
The move to the space was somewhat of a homecoming for Donnelly, who grew up about 10 blocks north of the district and graduated from Gibbs High School. A few weeks after moving into the shipping container building, the gallery space featured his own work on one wall along with art from about a dozen other artists. Like at his first gallery, Donnelly wants to showcase a variety of creators and media to bring in people with different tastes to the space.
"Bringing it back home after everything we've done in St. Petersburg is really the main draw," he said. "It's really neat that Pinellas Park is trying to do this outside of that area and kind of serve as a central location in the Tampa Bay area."
Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 445-4157 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn.