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Warehouse Arts District gets needed city cash for affordable studio space

Warehouse District Association president Mark Aeling poses in front of the old Ace Recycling complex in St. Petersburg. The Association has a contract on the 50,000-square-foot complex to create affordable artists spaces, to be called the Warehouse Arts District Enclave.  [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
Warehouse District Association president Mark Aeling poses in front of the old Ace Recycling complex in St. Petersburg. The Association has a contract on the 50,000-square-foot complex to create affordable artists spaces, to be called the Warehouse Arts District Enclave. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]
Published Dec. 12, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — A fledgling effort to create affordable studio space for artists in a neighborhood under intense development pressure got a crucial bit of cash Thursday from the City Council.

The proposed Warehouse Arts Enclave would convert a 50,000-square-foot collection of six aging warehouses and industrial space on nearly 3 acres into studio and teaching space.

The council gave $25,000 to the St. Petersburg Warehouse Arts District Association, a nonprofit group that will adapt the property at the corner of 22nd Street and Fifth Avenue S in the Warehouse Arts District for artists' use.

Mark Aeling, a sculptor who rents studio space on the property and is the association's board president, has said that he and other artists need to secure affordable space in the face of rising rents and rapid development in the area.

Market-rate studio space often rents for $12 per square foot, Aeling said earlier this week. The recently formed nonprofit would like to provide space for about half that price.

Across the country, artists have been pushed out of neighborhoods that their creative pursuits have made trendy, drawing restaurants, boutiques and upscale homes. In St. Petersburg, Aeling said, the arts community has helped spur a growing national profile as an arts center.

If the city doesn't help artists stay, Bradenton, Clearwater or Dunedin could provide cheaper space and become the next artistic hot spot, he said.

Last week, though, council members had sharp words for Aeling, scolding him for not providing enough details on the project — or enough gratitude.

Council member Darden Rice said at that meeting that city government had been very supportive of the arts and should be recognized and thanked — not criticized.

"I caught an earful," Aeling said earlier this week in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times.

Aeling said that he understood Rice's frustration. The city has allocated $200,000 in overall arts funding. And Mayor Rick Kriseman pledged another $50,000 to the Enclave project — money that also was transferred Thursday.

The deadline for a down payment of $350,000 on the property is Dec. 31. The project has raised $275,000 in private funds. City money has now made up the rest.

After the meeting, Aeling said the group would meet the deadline to make its down payment.

"Everything is in place," he said.

The Enclave would also provide classes and public outreach and, possibly, a restaurant or brewpub, he said.

The legal resolution allows the city to audit the nonprofit's finances. By unanimously approving the money Thursday, the council enabled the nonprofit to avoid about $15,000 in property taxes next year.

Council member Steve Kornell praised the group's initiative.

"We should be a city that does things. It's impressive that in the short time that this project has been on the table, you've raised that much money," he said.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.