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New arts complex on horizon for St. Petersburg

Warehouse District Association President Mark Aeling said potential donors for the project are “lining up.”

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Warehouse District Association President Mark Aeling said potential donors for the project are “lining up.”

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's Warehouse Arts District already houses a high-density collection of artists' studios. Now, a plan for a multipurpose arts complex is both the most ambitious and creative in an area known for both.

The newly proposed Warehouse Arts Enclave aspires to provide both affordable space for artists and additional facilities that would raise even higher St. Petersburg's profile as an arts-centric city.

The Warehouse Arts District Association has signed a contract to purchase a cluster of six warehouses and office buildings at 22nd Street and Fifth Avenue S — totalling 50,000 square feet — for $975,000, said Mark Aeling, the association president and a sculptor who leases studio space in one of the buildings. One of the buildings is the former Ace Recycling facility.

The first phase will be converting about 20,000 square feet into 30 to 40 studios, which have been in demand, Aeling said, and would help with operational costs. The remaining space, which would be a later phase, could be used for a variety of purposes, such as gallery space, classrooms and a foundry.

The foundry, used for metal casting, would be a major component for the Enclave if it becomes a reality.

The compound would be located near glass artist Duncan McClellan's hot shop, 2342 Emerson Ave. S, and the Morean Center for Clay, 420 22nd St. S, with its multiple kilns, both of which attract national and international artists. Visiting artists conduct demonstrations and workshops, and use the facilities to create their own work.

"It would give us a triad of fire art," Aeling said, "that would put us on the map nationally."

The uniqueness of having three large facilities to create fired glass, clay and metal in such close proximity would create a lot of synergy and be yet another great arts branding and marketing opportunity for St. Petersburg.

More than that, though, the Warehouse Arts Enclave would be a major counterpoint to the typical rise and demise of arts neighborhoods: Artists move into a depressed area because rents are cheap. They make it hip and people start coming around. Property is purchased. Galleries open. Then restaurants. Then apartments and condominiums. Then the artists can no longer afford to be there because their spaces are being commercially developed. They decamp.

So seems the trending of the Warehouse Arts District, which is part of the larger Midtown area and overlaps with the Dome Industrial Park, the historic 22nd Street S corridor known as the Deuces and a stretch of Central Avenue. Most artists can't afford to buy a warehouse and refurbish it. McClellan is one of the few. He bought an old fish processing plant and converted it into a multipurpose space that has become an arts and social hub.

The association's plan to purchase the property is an interesting model. The artists and arts business owners on its board of directors would oversee operation of the complex, which could be a formidable volunteer commitment.

Aeling said the group has spent a year formulating a realistic plan. It's based on the income the property would continue to generate, after its purchase, from current businesses that have leases. That would pay for an executive director and perhaps a few others to manage the property. At first, only vacant spaces would be renovated for studios; Aeling said this would take about a year.

A down payment of $350,000 will be due in early November, when the group expects to close on the property. The seller, Denne Property Holdings, will finance the mortgage over a five-year period, Aeling said.

The association has quietly begun fundraising for the down payment and studio build-out, and Aeling said potential donors are lining up, "but none I can talk about."

"This property is very well-positioned for sustainability," he said, "and we have a Plan B just in case."

Contact Lennie Bennett at lbennett@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8293.

New multibuilding arts compound on the horizon in St. Petersburg

New arts complex on horizon for St. Petersburg 07/18/14 [Last modified: Friday, July 18, 2014 11:26pm]
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