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  1. St. Petersburg

Daystar Life Center moves out of downtown St. Petersburg to a new, bright, welcoming building to serve the poor

Left to Right: Volunteers Robin Clemmons, Samantha Scribano, Charlotte Smith, and Timothy McBride, all of St. Petersburg, construct raised edible gardens outside of the new Daystar Life Center, 1055 28th St. S, St. Petersburg.  SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
Left to Right: Volunteers Robin Clemmons, Samantha Scribano, Charlotte Smith, and Timothy McBride, all of St. Petersburg, construct raised edible gardens outside of the new Daystar Life Center, 1055 28th St. S, St. Petersburg. SCOTT KEELER | Times
Published Aug. 5, 2019

ST. PETERSBURG — Architect Tim Clemmons focused on several elements when he designed the new Daystar Life Center building that will serve the city's poor.

"We wanted to start with giving people a really welcoming space," he said. "You can't be extravagant, but you still want to be gracious."

The high-ceiling lobby has two main entrances, one from the street for those arriving by foot or bus, and another from the parking lot, with bike racks near the door.

Clemmons, principal of Place Architecture, said he wanted to give "equal weight" to whichever way people made their way to the social service agency. And while the design features floor-length glass walls on the east and to the west to maximize light, broad overhangs protect the room from the morning and afternoon sun.

"I just love the way it looks and feels," Daystar executive director Jane Trocheck Walker said of the 50-seat lobby.

The yellow and white building at 1055 28th St. S, across from the Thomas "Jet'' Jackson Recreation Center in the Wildwood Neighborhood, recently officially opened those doors.

RELATED STORY: Daystar Life Center in downtown St. Petersburg moving services for the poor to Midtown

The new 11,000-square-foot facility is almost four times the size of the former Daystar location at 226 Sixth St. S. Walker is excited about the additional people the agency will be able to help and the new programs it will be able to provide. There will now be ample parking for clients and volunteers and even a room where children can play and read while they wait for their parents. There are plans to raise chickens on the spacious property.

"Everything is wonderful," Walker said.

The agency currently provides a range of services, including food, clothing, bus passes, rent and utility assistance, and help to get ID cards and birth certificates. The larger quarters south of downtown means it can now offer classes such as how to prepare nutritional meals. Walker views the center's new demonstration kitchen as a place where clients can learn how to cook vegetables grown in the garden being planted near the back entrance.

The area off the teaching kitchen can seat 40 people, but during a tour, Clemmons pointed to a folding wall that will ensure the room's versatility.

The former CSX property near the interstate lent itself to pragmatic treatment by Place Architecture, whose portfolio includes Armature Works in Tampa and the Bliss and the Salvador condominiums in St. Petersburg.

"Given the triangular nature of the site," plans for Daystar's L-shaped building "created a courtyard that then became the focal point" for placement of the edible garden, Clemmons said.

His firm donated materials for the garden, while its architects and engineers volunteered a Saturday morning to build wood-frames for the produce, herb and flower beds. One recent morning, Robin Clemmons, the architect's wife, worked on the beds with assistance from Charlotte Smith, a college intern, and volunteer Tim McBride. The 13 raised beds are layered with mulch, compost, coffee grounds, top soil and seagrass, said Clemmons, a former preschool teacher. Only organic material is being used in the garden, she said, adding that compost bins on the property will be used to collect food scraps.

Sweet potatoes are already growing, with an anticipated Thanksgiving harvest. Expectations are that collard greens, broccoli, beets, lettuce, kale and a range of other produce will also sprout from 13 garden beds.

"I really like the part of growing vegetables and getting them to people who don't have access," said Clemmons, an avid community garden volunteer, adding that she hopes those who visit Daystar will also help in the garden. In fact, their children might look on from the new playroom, whose low windows overlook the area.

Daystar's clientele will also now be able to choose their own foods, rather than receiving a bag of pre-selected items. Walker said the agency now has the capacity to provide more fresh and frozen products, along with staples. "It will be more supplemental food rather than just emergency food," she said. "With the produce, we will be able to serve people continually. We should be able to at least double what we do."

The $2.3 million project owes its start to a $1.9 million donation from St. Pete Beach residents Kevin and Jeanne Milkey. Daystar was started by the late Monsignor John P. McNulty in 1982 and began helping the poor from the basement of St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church downtown.

Contact Waveney Ann Moore at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.