Sunday, February 18, 2018
Opinion

St. Petersburg officials offer Salt Creek artists help finding new home

When one building closes, others will undoubtedly open. It didn't take long for city officials, real estate agents, art enthusiasts and investors to drive home that point and mobilize after learning that Salt Creek Artworks at 1600 Fourth St. S will soon be sold.

On Wednesday, officials from the city of St. Petersburg's Business Assistance Center, City Council and St. Petersburg Artists' Resource Collaborative met with the artists to highlight a host of available city services.

From the onset, one thing was clear: St. Petersburg values art.

"We want to help you," said Shrimatee Ojah-Maharaj, a manager in the city's planning and economic development department. "Some of you may think this is the end, but this is your chance to take advantage of this opportunity."

According to the current owner, Pat Burgess, the building will soon be razed to become a parking lot for the nearby fish processing plant.

The sale will displace some 42 artists, including several who have had a studio there for 20 years.

"We're here today to find out what you want to do and how you want to move forward," Ojah-Maharaj said.

What the artists wanted includes more visibility, affordability and a space large enough to house the artists who preferred to move as a group. Based on those parameters, it was determined that the artists are looking for a building with about 11,000 square feet for studios, plus an additional 2,000 square feet for a gallery.

The rent for Salt Creek artists averaged $250 per month, but as Ojah-Maharaj stressed, "If you want visibility, you're probably going to have to pay more.''

They were encouraged to consider spaces in other parts of the city including Grand Central District, the newly formed Warehouse Arts District, Midtown and the Enterprise Zone.

Sculptor Mark Aeling, representing the Warehouse Arts District, encouraged the artists to consider that part of the city.

"We're trying to get a density of artists there," he said. "That's the goal — to try to find strength in numbers."

The pending move of Salt Creek artists could also be an opportunity for other artists looking to join a larger collaborative.

"I'm right along with all the artists," said Leslie Curran, City Council chair, who said she will be moving her framing business, Interior Motives, at 1110 Central Ave.

Curran, who described herself as "a soon-to-be homeless picture framer," addressed the crowd of nearly 50, more than half nonartists.

In late March, Curran was embroiled in what she called a "landlord-tenant dispute" for $46,000 in back rent and taxes that resulted in a lawsuit being filed by former mayoral candidate John Warren, who owns the property.

Commercial real estate brokers Sarah J. Parker of Profound Properties and Jill Plaice of Plaice Properties were on hand to offer suggestions about available space. But most in attendance stressed one point: The artists should remain as one unit as they look for a new home.

"You need to be a team," Parker said. "You can't separate because fees will kill you. There are a lot of properties out there."

Artists may want to consider the city's Enterprise Zone, which offers tax incentives for businesses that offer jobs.

"Because we value arts business, you're eligible to have your city taxes waived for five years (if you move to that zone)," said Sophia Sorolis, the city's manager with planning and economic development. There's also a community loan fund and a community contribution tax credit.

But Salt Creek lacks nonprofit status, and few artists can afford taking out loans.

Arts photographer Herb Snitzer questioned the availability of the Manhattan Casino: "That place has been empty for over four years," referring to the first floor.

"Is the city in a position to help us build out the first floor?"

City officials said that location was off-limits for now, but other sites were available. "While looking for a building, you may want to concentrate on creating your own brand. You may want to consider if you can keep the name, Salt Creek," Sorolis said. She stressed brand development and shared other programs the city offers.

Other sites mentioned included a school, a former bank building on First Avenue S and a vacant building near St. Pete Clay Co. on 22nd Street near Second Avenue S.

The group agreed to meet again at 3 p.m. on Wednesday.

"We're so shell-shocked. We just need to know what the next step is,'' said Lance Rodgers, who agreed to be the point person for the group.

But the clock in ticking. The artists have less than 45 days to find a new home.

• • •

In other arts news, for the third year in a row American Style magazine has put St. Petersburg at the top of the list for arts destinations for midsized cities.

The magazine cited art museums and galleries and a plethora of cultural events.

Sandra J. Gadsden can be reached at [email protected] or at (727) 893-8874.

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