Get a sneak peek of the Factory St. Pete this Saturday

An outdoor event offers a first look at the creative arts destination in St. Petersburg.
Keep St. Pete Lit's office at the Factory St. Pete, which premieres a First Look event on Saturday, Dec. 12.
Keep St. Pete Lit's office at the Factory St. Pete, which premieres a First Look event on Saturday, Dec. 12. [ Courtesy of Kara Behar ]
Published Dec. 10, 2020|Updated Dec. 11, 2020

When the Factory St. Pete opens for its First Look event on Saturday, with art installations, a maker’s market and a lineup of local bands, the scene will look very much the way founder Kara Behar envisioned it.

Well, sort of.

Plans have been in the works for the arts/non-profit/creative business space in the Warehouse Arts District for a couple years.

In 2019, Kara Behar, executive director of Behar and Peteranecz Architecture, and her husband, architect Jordan Behar, purchased eight warehouses spanning 90,000 square feet that formerly belonged to window film company Madico. They bought them with arts consultant Liz Dimmitt, and planned for Dimmitt’s immersive art experience, Fairgrounds, to be housed in part of the space.

Related: Immersive art meets craft beer at future St. Pete and Tampa compounds

Behar’s plan for the entire complex, called the Factory St. Pete, was a mix of artists’ studios, headquarters for local non-profit organizations, creative businesses, dance classes, coffee shops and a craft brewing collective. She was inspired by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s 798 Art Zone in Beijing, which mixes art studios, bars and restaurants in former electronics factories.

While they were waiting for Madico to vacate the buildings, Jordan was taking his time designing each of the eight warehouses on 6.5 acres. They’d planned to be completely open by the end of 2020.

But the timing was bad. The Behars didn’t get into the buildings to begin work until March 2020, just as the world was getting turned upside down by the pandemic.

Suddenly, Behar said, everything froze, including loans and planned tenants. Things didn’t start moving again until August, and their $9 million construction budget was reduced by a third.

“It pivoted and the whole marketplace changed,” Behar said.

Rather than attempt to tackle all eight warehouses, they focused on buildings one and two. Fairgrounds, an artist-created, Florida-themed immersive installation, will open in building one in the spring. Work is currently happening in that space.

They made some updates to building two, such as new flooring, but nothing structural. Plans for coffee shops and craft beer spots have been put on hold because of the pandemic. But there are tenants. Literary non-profit Keep St. Pete Lit is headquartered there, as is the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance’s office for the Shine Mural Festival.

Behar said they are also getting tenants who are downsizing their businesses because of the pandemic. And people whose offices are closed have rented spaces to work in.

Perhaps most importantly, artists have moved in, including Grounded Gallery, by Hao Penghe and ceramicist Ashley Rivers of The Nature of Fire. Behar said many of the artists they are attracting are young or emerging. There is a collaborative artist studio that she hopes will stoke interactions with artists working in different mediums.

One such interaction has already happened at the Factory, with the development of the collaborative Imagine 360 Video Productions.

Atlanta-based artist Saudade Toxosi, known as Stoxosi, will be moving in. She is a museum installation artist who heard about the Factory through word of mouth.

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The Factory will also be a place for film premieres, like an upcoming one by Black on the Scene Productions. Daddy Kool Records will be moving into the compound in the spring, with a space for bands to play and have album release parties.

Saturday’s sneak peek event will feature art installations and is entirely outdoors. With 6.5 acres, social distancing is possible and masks are mandatory. It includes a ribbon cutting in Keep St. Pete Lit’s Children’s Word Garden, an outdoor classroom for kids in the community. Kids’ reading activities and live music will happen there on Saturday, every half-hour.

Fairgrounds will have a booth with information about what’s to come when it opens in the spring.

Another important aspect of Saturday’s event is the Holiday Makers Market with Keep St. Pete Local, which produces the mega-market event Localtopia.

Keep St. Pete Local executive director Olga Bof said that when planning the market, she was mindful of finding vendors that represent the community, so they are predominantly women and include LGBTQ-, Latinx-, Black- and Native American-owned businesses. Many of them are artists.

“These folks have not sold since March and they need this money,” she said.

Similarly, Behar said, is the opportunity for local bands and DJs to perform live. Bands will play all day Saturday on the main stage, where a performance by Kali Kali Dance Company also happens.

“St. Pete is an amazing place,” Behar said. “Everyone is kind, but thoughtful. The makers need a place, we need to bring back the live music scene and we have the space.”

She said they plan to hold events like Saturday’s on a regular basis as the Factory continues to grow.

“We’d love to expand them as the city expands,” she said. “We’re looking at half of the land for doing big events. It’s a good partnership between the non-profits and the businesses. When they do well, the arts do well.”

If you go

First Look at the Factory St. Pete. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. 2622 Fairfield Ave. S. Masks are required at the outdoor event. Parking may be difficult, but the venue is on the Pinellas Trail, making it easy to ride a bike.

This story has been updated to reflect that the artist’s name is Ashley Rivers.