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It's a renaissance for Rutland store

The barricades will be taken down and the wraps will come off the Rutland Building sometime this weekend as a Fourth of July surprise for a long-waiting downtown.

It will now be known as the Renaissance Building, a name all the involved parties feel is commensurate with its use as a re-born building used as center for the arts. The name also ties in with the big "R" for Rutland on the entrance floor of the former Rutland's Men's Store.

The building at 501 Central Ave. will house Florida Craftsmen Gallery on the first floor and ARTSPACE on the second floor, with a grand opening slated for July 14.

Law partners Pat Anderson and George Rahdert, who is long known for his historic preservations of downtown buildings, have worked closely with contractor Barry Flaherty in restoring the 1916 building to its original state.

The building cost them $110,000; the renovation, $200,000.

Navy blue awnings top the handsome French doors that open onto wrought iron balconies on the second floor, with the original many-paned transoms above the first floor windows. Round awnings cover the three entrances to the building. Cobalt blue tiles line the first floor plate glass windows that once displayed fashions and will now display art.

Inside, the ceilings are also deep blue with white walls and the cobalt blue tiles are repeated in the Fifth Street entrance floor.

"We'll be open Wednesday for curiosity seekers," said a somewhat weary Michelle Tuegal, founder and director of Florida Craftsmen.

She spoke amid a forest of white pedestals and display cases, as workers began carrying in movable walls. Many artists have already moved into second-story studios. Eighteen of the 28 available spaces have been rented, which rent from $175 to about $400 a month.

All are artists or crafts people except Wendy Giffin, who will launch her own commercial real estate business, Structure Real Estate, Inc., in a handsome corner studio.

There are still 10 studio spaces available in the second floor artspace, and footage available in the west portion of the first floor. Rahdert and Anderson hope to turn the former Rutland Men's Store, the turquoise art deco portion of the building, into a coffee house or restaurant, says Rahdert.

Built in 1916 as the T.J. Northrup Store, the building was Northrup-Rutland when Hubert Rutland came from Evergreen, Ala., in 1921 to join his brother Jeff who had bought into the business. Hubert Rutland established Rutland's Men's Store adjoining the original building in 1923. As the 1948 renovation of the men's store was done in art deco style, the turquoise popular in that era was chosen for the exterior.

Rutland's Department Store closed in April 1990.

Rahdert, who handles First Amendment cases for the St. Petersburg Times, has been involved in renovating a number of other downtown buildings. He and Anderson also renovated and own the Alexander Building in which they have their offices at 535 Central Ave.

He also renovated the Stewart Building at 233 Third St. N, now leased by the Junior League; renovated and owns Bay Gables Tea Room and Bay Gables Bed and Breakfast, 136 Fourth Ave. NE, leased by Donna Gilbert; renovated and owns the Henry-Bryan House, 146 Fourth Ave. NE, leased by Bonnie Kuntz for Bon Bon's L'Habitat.

He also bought and restored the Blocker Mansion, now Mansion by the Bay, 145 Fourth Ave. NE, a banquet facility owned by Midge Trubey. He restored and owns four apartment buildings in the Round Lake and downtown area and owns, but did not restore, the State Theater.

His latest project is the Bryan Annex, 156 Fourth Ave. NE, undergoing what he calls "recycling," for he salvages everything possible.