1. Opinion

Editorial: Projects invest in St. Petersburg's core

Published Aug. 9, 2014

Two projects recently announced in St. Petersburg will help grow the city's reputation as a place that values artistic expression, but the projects also excite because they bring new investment to the city's core.

The Warehouse Arts District Association is spending just under a million dollars to purchase the former Ace Recycling property and several nearby warehouses and offices in the 500 block of 22nd Street S, within sight of the Morean Center for Clay and close to glass artist Duncan McClellan's hot shop. The association has long-term plans for gallery space, classrooms and a metal-casting foundry, but it will begin by creating about 20,000 square feet of studio space for 30 to 40 artists. A foundry at what's been named the Warehouse Arts Enclave would create "a triad of fire art that would put us on the map nationally," association president Mark Aeling said.

It's an ambitious plan with a high price tag for a nonprofit group founded just two years ago. The group has been raising funds from private donors. A first public fundraiser at the property, 515 22nd St. S, is planned for 7 p.m. Thursday. The association hopes to raise $350,000 by Nov. 1 for the down payment and first phase of renovations.

The property, which is across the street from the Pinellas County Job Corps campus, needs rehabilitation and is surrounded by industrial and commercial buildings, some of them empty. Its conversion to a complex that eventually could host classes and arts events will bring new energy to that stretch of 22nd Street.

The second announcement involves a public investment of nearly $2.3 million for an "art-in-transit" project along Central Avenue. Its goal is to make mass transit easier and more comfortable to navigate and also to enliven and visually unify Central Avenue. The Mickett/Stackhouse Studio, hired by the city to develop a master concept for the project, showed off its work at a recent City Council meeting. And while nothing has been designed yet, just the concepts the team showed excited council members, who unanimously moved the project to the design phase.

The concept showed tall, lighted glass pillars clustered on the east and west ends of Central Avenue — "welcoming portals" to the city's central street. Each column was a different color to represent the seven character districts along Central. The team's work included artistically designed bus shelters at 10 Central Avenue Trolley stops east of 28th Street, each with the lighted column motif and a lighted transit map. Trees would shade passengers waiting for the trolley.

The art-in-transit project will be funded with a $975,000 federal transportation grant, $500,000 from the Penny for Pinellas sales tax, $500,000 in transportation impact fees paid by developers and $300,000 from the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. If the Greenlight Pinellas referendum passes Nov. 4 and Bus Rapid Transit lines are created to move passengers along First Avenue North and First Avenue South, the city will use some of the "art-in-transit" components on those corridors, too.

Though the eventual design could differ from the concept the team showed, representatives predicted that light and color will remain important components. Light was requested by downtown merchants to give Central Avenue visitors a greater sense of safety. The bright colors and unique bus shelter designs would further the city's emphasis on art and artistry.

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Art is a proven mechanism for renewing neighborhoods, bringing color and energy to moribund areas and attracting visitors and investment. These two plans hold out promise of continuing St. Petersburg's string of successes in those areas.


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