Manhattan Casino's modern event space opens; Salt Creek artists settle into new home

Back in May, they broke ground to begin the buildout of the lower level of the historic Manhattan Casino.

Sylvia's "Queen of Soul Food" restaurant — famous for its Harlem location — is expected to open in October.

But last week, representatives of Urban Development Solutions and city officials held a grand opening for the facility's event space on the second floor.

In 2005, the city spent $2.8 million to refurbish the Casino.

Since signing a 50-year lease with the city, UDS has made additional upgrades to the facility. According to project manager Greg Williams, UDS spent $382,000 on upgrades. That figure will grow to $1.4 million by the time the restaurant opens, he said.

The event space, which was the legendary jazz hall in the 1920s through the 1970s, has new restrooms, a catering kitchen, a bar and decorative finishes.

During Thursday's sneak peek, the upgrades were noticeable — landscaping, new signs and finishing touches throughout the common areas.

"We want to offer an experience comparable to other banquet facilities," said Tamara Felton-Howard, vice president at UDS.

UDS officials decided to open the event space after hearing requests from people in the community who were interested in renting the space, Felton-Howard said.

In addition to receptions and special gatherings, the facility will host the annual Law Day, which had been held for years at nearby St. Petersburg College.

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A small group of artists, displaced after their creative space at Salt Creek Artworks was sold more than a year ago, have found a home.

Getting settled in new digs can come with a few hiccups, but the artists who moved into Art Central Studios at 2109 Central Ave. didn't expect transportation to be an issue.

The studios are in a prime spot, nestled in the Grand Central District, which sits on the edge of the Warehouse Arts District.

So after getting settled into the second floor of the building in March, the group paid the $50 fee to have the trolley stop in front of the studios during the monthly 2nd Saturday Artwalks.

Problem is, the trolley never made the stops. Patrons, neighbors and friends complained that the trolley failed to stop at the studio, but instead dropped them off across the street in front of an auto repair company.

An artist hopped aboard the trolley to check it out. The complaints were confirmed and the artists lodged complaints with the Downtown Partnership, which runs the trolleys.

"It's our duty to have a guard on the trolley," said Jeff Schorr, owner of the Craftsman House. "One of the other things we fixed was they were running it (the Artwalk) just like the Central Avenue trolley. If they don't see anyone at the stop, they just blew by."

Schorr says the association is new and everyone's trying to work out the kinks.

Despite the trolley blip, the artists say they're happy with the new location.

"It's a nice juncture. I enjoy coming to work," said Carol Dameron, a former Salt Creek Artworks artist.

"The painting I'm doing here I never would have been able to do there." To Dameron, the new space has a nice vibe. "It just felt right. You have go with the feeling, too."

In the meantime, the artists at Art Central Studios have figured out how to attract new patrons.

"We found that putting out balloons was more effective and cheaper than the trolley," she said.

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at sgadsden@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8874. Follow on Twitter @StPeteSandi.

Manhattan Casino's modern event space opens; Salt Creek artists settle into new home 08/30/13 [Last modified: Sunday, September 1, 2013 8:47am]

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