Monday, April 23, 2018
Arts

High rent may force Chihuly Collection to leave St. Petersburg's Beach Drive

ST. PETERSBURG — The Chihuly Collection, with its dramatic glass installations by international art star Dale Chihuly, has been a big draw on Beach Drive in the city's downtown waterfront area since it opened in 2010.

But it may move to a different location.

"We're exploring our options," said Wayne Atherholt, executive director of the Morean Arts Center, which owns the collection. "We're at least a month away from making a decision and a move wouldn't happen quickly."

A strong motivation is money, he said. Rent is high on that tony stretch of retail and restaurants that anchor high-rise condominiums.

Atherholt declined to give an exact monthly rent figure but acknowledged that $30,000 was "in the range. And the Hamilton family (which owns the space) could probably get a lot more from something that wasn't not-for-profit as we are. They've been great."

Chihuly's most famous installations, each with hundreds of pieces of blown glass, are arranged through five galleries designed for them by Tampa architect Albert Alfonso as an exquisite jewel box complementing their designs and colors.

At the time, it was the only permanent installation in the world that encompassed such an array of Chihuly's work. It was created with the artist's help and permission, and he has visited several times.

In March, part of the 7,600 square feet was reconfigured. The galleries remain unchanged but the former 800-square-foot gift area has been converted to more gallery space and the admissions area and small theater are now a gift store with its own entrance, selling both the Chihuly brand and other gift-oriented items.

The goal of the for-profit Chihuly Collection has always been to generate funding for the Morean, a few blocks southwest at 719 Central Ave., a not-for-profit center that offers classes and community outreach. It also has a large center for ceramics and a hot shop for glass-blowing demonstrations.

"We aren't losing money," Atherholt said. "We are generating excess revenue for the Morean programming. But we think we could do better."

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