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A class act: new St. Pete Pier expected to be drawing card

Piers that jut hundreds of feet above water are costly to build. Keeping them current, so they attract and entertain visitors year after year, requires a redo every so often. So what people are witnessing in downtown St. Petersburg, the reconstruction of its pier spanning some 3,400 feet above Tampa Bay, hasn’t happened for about 45 years.

“It’s transformative,” says Chris Ballestra, managing director in charge of development for St. Petersburg’s downtown.

Since the first pier was built in 1889 as a railroad trestle, the city has had several piers that served as a major community gathering space. This redo is actually the city’s eighth. It replaces the Inverted Pyramid Pier completed in 1973, which was torn down in 2013.

“The old pier was very nice, but all the action was way out into the bay and there was nothing in between,” Ballestra explains. “We’re activating the whole site.”

The $76 million project features a Lawn Bowl capable of handling crowds of more than 3,000 for special events, plus a Splash Pad, an interactive water play area; Spa Beach, offering a naturalized shoreline for beach enthusiasts; a Marina Lawn for outdoor recreation such as shuffleboard and swings; and a Coastal Thicket, which turns parts of the stroll out to the pier head into a nature walk.

Because it is so expensive, there are very few cities that have these long piers. Which means this new pier can be “a calling card” for St. Pete, he says, along the lines of the Navy Pier in Chicago, Pier 39 in San Francisco or Santa Monica Pier in California.

“We want to compete on a very large stage around the world,” Ballestra says.

Despite its complexity, the project has been going smoothly. “It’s a very challenging construction market right now, a very competitive environment,” he says. “We’re locked in on the numbers. We don’t have any surprises, which is how we need it to be.”

Construction began on the new St. Pete Pier last June, with the activity centering around the pilings and deck above the water. “Building the pier itself is an extremely complex project,” he says. “By example, the old pier had 1500 pilings. ... For everyone one of our pilings, there three of our old pilings around it.”

Construction will go vertical in late spring or early summer, he says. Updates are available through the city’s website; click on “The New Pier” under City Initiatives.

“We wanted to preserve the community’s expectation,” he says. “We are building for a 75- to a 100-year lifespan.”

An estimated 1,000 are being employed during construction, and some 400 are expected to have ongoing jobs when the pier is completed. The main contractor is Skanska, a major project development and construction company with U.S. operations based in New York City.

While approval is still pending, the city has identified two potential pier occupants: Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille, themed on novels by New York Times best-selling author Randy Wayne White, and Tampa Bay Watch, a Tierra Verde nonprofit which would run an environmental learning center open to the public.

When work is completed, the pier district will be connected with the rest of downtown. “Within the district, there’s shuttles that link directly to downtown that are free,” Ballestra explains. “We worked very hard to make sure we had an integrated process.”

A grand opening is slated for April, 2019, so there’s still a lot of work remaining. “You’re going to see a lot of construction activity,” he adds.

The project comes at a time of uncertainty -- and promise -- as the city grapples with what to do with the 86-acre Tropicana Field property following the Tampa Bay Rays’ announcement Feb. 9 that it would be moving to Ybor City. “We’re very excited to get that site redeveloped, period,” he says.

Ballestra calls the pier and Tropicana Field “bookends to a downtown.”

“What we’re doing with the pier is a full rebuild, creating its own district,” he says. “Tropicana is ultimately a bigger project, with clearly long-term implications to the city.”

He expects the results to be positive. “It’s exciting,” he says. “I feel ... very happy for our community given what’s in store in the next 50 years.”


CRED: Tampa program teaches community redevelopment skills

Looking to make a difference? If you have an interest in real estate or community redevelopment, an upcoming training program can help.

The class attracts people from varying backgrounds, from affordable housing developers to policy makers, community development staff and board members and students in business, urban studies, and architecture.

“We’d love to have non-traditional individuals that may have a passion for community development, but don’t really know how to get started,” says Angela Crist, director of the Florida Institute of Government at the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Members of the class, expected to include up to 25, put together recommended projects based on real-world problems, with the goal of actually implementing them. That might be a plan to utilize open space left by a former neighborhood grocery. Or an artist-themed community or even a townhouse project as in-fill in a developed area.

“It is a grassroots program. They have to work on a viable project,” Crist says.

The Community Real Estate Development program, known as CRED, is a certification program held annually to help people gain a better understanding about community real estate development, the financial aspects of property development and real estate development management.

“Our ultimate goal is that we are changing people’s behavior,” explains Crist. “At the end, they are looking at it [community real estate development] through a different lens, so they can go out and improve their community.

The class, which costs $150, meets on Friday afternoons and Saturdays from March 2 through April 14. It is being held from noon to 4:30 p.m. Fridays and from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays at Tampa Housing Authority, 5301 Cypress St., Tampa.

The deadline to register is February 16. Apply online here.

The program presents diverse segments of the commercial redevelopment field, utilizing USF professors and community talent to teach and mentor. “Every class they have is like a lunch and learn or various speakers," Crist says.

CRED is sponsored by the Housing Finance Authority of Hillsborough County, the Housing Finance Authority of Pinellas County, Tampa Housing Authority, and Sun Trust Foundation.

Participants can earn a certificate from USF.  The class can be used for continuing education units for professionals or academic credit for college students though an independent study course at USF.  

Certification maintenance credits are required for a number of professionals including planners, and development and planning education staff.

College students find the program to be very hands-on, Crist adds, helping them to understand the process from “soup to nuts.”

Class members also benefit from the course’s networking potential because it draws together developers, lenders, and government officials/staffers in a non-threatening environment.

Although the class has been held in North and South Florida, it is only available in Tampa Bay this year because of scheduling and capacity issues, Crist says.


Luxury high-rise under construction in downtown St. Pete

Construction has begun on the $80 million Icon Central mixed-used development in downtown St. Petersburg, which will include an upscale 368-unit high-rise apartment complex and upgrade of the 1926 Union Trust Bank building.

Its 15-story luxury apartment complex at 801 Central Ave. will literally stand out amid the area’s existing mid-rises – inside and outside. It will feature amenities such as an outdoor movie lawn, a club lounge with game simulator room, and indoor Zen garden.

“We studied the market and we’ve included these top tier amenities that will appeal to both the baby boomers and the millennials," says Jessica Suarez, VP of development for the Miami-based Related Group, the project developer.

It will incorporate the arts through rotating art exhibits, local artist displays, an art and wine tasting room, plus art in the courtyard surrounding the pool, she adds.

“We’ve taken it to another level,” Suarez says. “The art element in St. Pete is significant.”

A ceremonial groundbreaking ceremony, scheduled at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 10, is expected to draw local officials and team members. 

Work began in December. “We’ve cleared the site and we’re doing foundations,” she says.

The project is the latest in The Related Group’s Icon brand, known for luxury highrise rentals. It includes Icon Harbor Island apartments in Tampa, plus Icon projects in Fort Lauderdale and Atlanta.

Icon Central will include studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units with monthly rents expected to range from $1600 to $4000; some on the top floors will have water views. Leasing is anticipated in mid-2019.

The high-rise, being built in a contemporary federal architecture style, also will include a spa with steam and sauna, a pool courtyard with a European-style heated pool, and a summer grilling kitchen.

The intimate, outdoor movie lawn will have a large screen on the side of the building, which can be used for movies or projections during outdoor classes.

Related seeks to create a community around activities for its residents. “That [Icon Central] is a community for us. We’re constantly involving them,” she says. “It’s different. You don’t see anything like that in St. Pete.”

The residential complex will be connected to the bank building with a multi-use building with retail, residential and parking space. The first two levels will be primarily cast stone, with tan stucco above. The bank is being renovated with stonework, cornices and other features reflecting the historical era.

What we envision there is more of a high-end -- boutique stores with lounge and meeting space, or a food hall,” she says.

The interior of the bank, as well as an 1980s addition, have been demolished. “As construction progresses, we will start marketing the retail,” she explains.

The retail space is expected to be completed around mid-2019.

What attracted the developer to St. Petersburg was the continued growth and development, similar to more successful areas in the Miami area that have been revitalized, she says.

Icon Central has been in the works for three years.

The Related Group is active in the Tampa market, where move-ins have begun at Icon Harbor Island, a 340-unit luxury development. Construction is continuing at River Manorwalk, an eight story, 400-unit complex being built on the site of the former Tampa Tribune downtown, with leasing and move-ins planned in mid-2019.

Related also is developing the 396-unit Town Westshore rental community and partnering with Tampa Housing Authority in its West River redevelopment involving 150 acres on the west bank of the Hillsborough River on the edges of downtown.


11 people, projects in Downtown Tampa recognized for urban excellence

What is the value of a new dog park to the surrounding neighborhood? 

For residents on the northern half of the Channel District in downtown Tampa, it’s immense, if only measured based on dogs-per-acre.

The Deputy Kotfila Memorial Dog Park is built underneath the Selmon Expressway, directly across from Bell Channelside and within walking distance of Grand Central and Ventana. It’s excellent thanks to a thoughtful design and dual use of space (dogs below, cars above), and the acknowledgement of a public hero: 

Hillsborough County Deputy John Robert Kotfila, Jr. lost his life to a wrong-way driver on the Lee Roy Selmon Expressway in March of last year. The Tampa Hillsborough Expressway Authority wanted to do something to honor his legacy. After learning about the strong bond between Kotfila and his German Shepard, Dexter, it was decided to  dedicate the Selmon Greenway dog park in his honor.

“The neighborhood loves it and is grateful to have a shaded space to use year-round, as well as separate space for small dogs,'' says Sarah McKinley, a downtown resident and worker. "They [the dogs] all seem very pleased.”

And as any dog owner knows, dog parks have a way of becoming the main gathering spot for the neighborhood. If anything will force you away from solitary Netflix binging, it’s to take Rufus for a walk.

The Downtown Partnership also recognized other projects for improving the quality of life in Tampa. Winners include The Downtowner free shuttle service (transportation), The Art of the Brick (private sector project), Second Screen Cult Cinema (arts and culture), and the I AM PRICELESS mural (social impact).

The full list of winners is available on the Tampa Downtown Partnership's website. Look for winners in categories like historic preservation, experience, collaboration, and people’s choice.

Taken in aggregate, these actors and their impacts build upon the momentum that continues to push Tampa’s urban center in more dynamic directions each year.

A special acknowledgement was also made to Christine Burdick, Tampa Downtown Partnership’s CEO for the past 15 years. She led the Partnership through what many consider Downtown Tampa’s most transformative change in modern times, but will soon retire from her work with the organization.

Burdick is credited as the driver of many successful initiatives, such as programming activities in Curtis Hixon Park, completion and management of The Tampa Riverwalk, relocation of the Tampa Museum of Art, and initiating the Coast Bike Share program.

A new facelift for historic Downtown Tampa landmark

Downtown Tampa’s only “elaborate movie palace” is undergoing a much-anticipated upgrade: wider, cushier seats and a more modern concessions stand for attendees to enjoy, as well as significant infrastructural improvements to protect the 1926 building from extreme weather.

The $6 million Phase 1 scope of work at Tampa Theatre addresses both the integrity of the building and the superior audience experience; seating has long been a gripe of even the venue’s biggest fans. The 1970s-era lobby concession counter is inefficient for rapid service and out of step with the original Mediterranean design. Both will be addressed with work starting today.

Authenticity is key in this process, and so even the new paint will be forensically matched to what was used 91 years ago.

While the mainstream model for cinema is changing thanks to streaming services and dinner-bar-theater hybrids, the Tampa Theatre’s charm is its ambiance and urban setting, surrounded by bars, restaurants and modern residential highrises.

Attendees enjoy a regular lineup of unique independent films and documentaries, seasonal classics (horror around Halloween, holiday from now until the new year -- to be shown outside during Winter Village at Curtis Hixon Park, and participation in film festivals like TIGLFF and GIFF.

Tampa City Council member Guido Maniscalco recalled a friend telling him, ahead of this morning’s media briefing: “I proposed to my wife there!”

When you attend a movie screening at The Tampa Theatre, you get one of the rare glimpses into prewar life in Tampa -- a distant past of gilded opulence. A time when streetcars ran up and down Franklin Street and ushers showed dressed-up moviegoers to their assigned seats before a film.

In 1976, the Tampa Theatre was saved from demolition through a coalition of impassioned community and civic leaders, including former Tampa Mayor Bill Poe, Sr. In 1978, it was selected to be part of the National Register of Historic Places, making it eligible for federal preservation tax credits and incentives.

Today, individual donations, sponsorships and partnerships, and philanthropic businesses support its continued operation and improvement. This morning, realty brokerage Smith & Associates’ CEO Bob Glaser presented Tampa Theatre CEO John Bell with a check for $250,000, generosity that will help speed the restoration work.

So where are all those old seats going? Head to Schiller’s Architectural and Design Salvage in North Hyde Park to purchase a piece of the theatre’s history.

Renovation work will wrap up by the end of December in time for a film screening on the 22nd and New Years Eve party to ring in 2018! Exact date of completion is T-B-A.


Architectural design center opens in Ybor City

The historic San Souchi building in Ybor City, a two-story yellow brick building dating back to 1906, is now home to Center for Architecture and Design, a place where architectural organizations and the community can collaborate.

The center houses the American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay and its related organization, the Tampa Bay Foundation for Architecture and Design. It already is hosting exhibits on the fourth Friday of the month.

AIA Tampa Bay has scheduled a ribbon cutting, which is open to the public, at 10 a.m. September 7 at 1315 E. 7th Ave., Ste. 105, on the building’s first floor.

The offices, formerly located at 200 N. Tampa Street, Suite 100, are now larger and more visible. “We see a lot of foot traffic on the sidewalk,” says Philip Trezza Jr., Past President of AIA Tampa Bay. “We wanted to have that physical presence and visibility in downtown Tampa and Ybor.”

The facility will be used for meetings, art galleries and architectural displays, presentations, and continuing education for its members. An event calendar is available on the association’s website.

The gallery will showcase traveling exhibits, student projects, local artists and design contest winners.

The center also will be available to rent for meetings and special events.

“We may have an option in the future to buy it [the center space]. Right now we’re leaving our options open,” Trezza says.

A $50,000 upgrade to the property, located in the Ybor City Historic District, a U.S. National Historic Landmark District near downtown Tampa, has been underway after they moved in last year.

Improvements include pine flooring made with salvaged pine from rivers and drop-in ceilings, new cabinets and kitchen, a new air conditioning system, a new electrical system, energy-efficient lighting, and countertops with poured concrete in the kitchen area. Glass panels from University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s College of Business were recycled for a table.

A retail shop, planned next year at the front of the offices, will sell art and architecturally related items.

The 2,000-square-foot center’s design was donated by
the St. Petersburg-based Harvard Jolly Architecture, where Trezza is Senior VP and a Principal.

The San Souci building won a Community Design Award given by the Hillsborough's City-County Planning Commission in 2010. The 22,000-square-foot building, which served as a retail anchor on the west end of 7th Avenue, has housed a penny arcade, barber shop, telegraph office, the San Souci theater, a Maas Brothers department store and Babcock furniture store.

AIA Tampa Bay is the regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It is the professional association of some 625 architects and architecture-related workers in a seven-county area including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Hernando, Citrus, Sumter and Pasco counties.

The nonprofit TBFAD offers education on design to the public, and seeks to inspire the exploration and appreciation of architecture. It now will spearhead Tampa Bay Design Week, a public festival AIA Tampa Bay started in 2014.


Inkwood Books gets ready to move to Tampa Heights, Tampa

Thanks to its new neighbor, Tampa Heights’ storied history just added another chapter -- endless chapters, actually. Inkwood Books, Tampa’s only independent book store for new books, is moving in to 1809 N. Tampa Street after more than 20 years at the corner of Armenia and Platt. It will be across the street from the Hall on Franklin, a restaurant collective set to open soon.

“We have loved our home, and we have gotten a lot of love here from the community,” says owner Stefani Beddingfield, who bought Inkwood in 2013. “But I think we are moving to a place where there is a passion for local things, where the love of local seems to be a little more viable and important to the people.”

Inkwood isn’t moving its inventory until January but will be holding events at the new site starting as early as September, when the store hosts author Leigh Bardugo, the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Six Crows, Crooked Kingdom and the Grisha Trilogy. 

With a bigger, more open space and a location in the heart of reinvigorated urban area, Inkwood is hoping to attract many more intriguing authors to Tampa, building the city’s literary reputation in the publishing world as a sought-after destination. Lindsay Pingel, the store’s recently designated Events Coordinator, will be in charge of enhancing Inkwood’s national standing, but won’t be ignoring the surrounding area, working to foster relationships within the city limits as well as outside of them.

“Lindsey wants to reach out to the community to establish better connections here, locally, taking authors into the schools for example,” Beddingfield says. 

As the store makes its physical transition, Inkwood will be revamping its online presence too, offering a new website and outputting its newsletter on Tuesdays and Fridays in a modified format. In fact, the store just released its first edition under Shelf Awareness with the title: “Change is good, Inkreaders.”

New James Museum transforms 100 block of Central Ave., Downtown St. Pete

A 105-ton stone mesa will frame the entrance to the Tom & Mary James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art Museum, St. Petersburg’s newest addition to its growing collection of arts and cultural organizations.  

Located at the corner of 100 Central Avenue and First Avenue South in the heart of downtown, the James Museum represents the vision of Tom James, chairman emeritus of Raymond James Financial, and his wife Mary.

The James’ have donated $50 million to build the museum, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017 with a grand opening in early 2018.

The museum will display a portion of the James’ vast collection of more than 3,000 pieces of western and wildlife art and sculpture, as well as Native American jewelry.  The couple began collecting western and wildlife art in the late 1950s and now have one of the largest private collections in Florida.

“When my wife Mary and I decided to share the best of our collection through the establishment of a museum, it made perfect sense to build that museum in the city that has been our home for over 50 years and so much a part of our family’s success,” says James. 

“Anchored by the Dali Museum, St. Petersburg already has such a strong arts presence in downtown,” says James. “We wanted to augment the array of cultural attractions and further establish the city as a cultural destination, while providing educational and entertainment opportunities for the community.” 

The final steel beam that will support the 219-foot foot tall stone mesa was lowered into place at the end of June during a “topping off” ceremony.  The event marked slightly more than the halfway point for construction of the 84,000-square foot museum, which when completed will be larger than The Dali Museum.

From parking garage to museum

The  location of the new James Museum will be a first for the city. Rather than taking shape as a free-standing entity,  the museum is being built within the bottom two floors of the SouthCore Parking Garage, a distinctive pink landmark in the 100 block of Central Avenue.  The new ONE 41-story luxury condo tower is under construction across the street. 

Last year, St. Petersburg City Council approved a 50-year lease between the city and the museum. Parking for the museum and the public will continue to be available in the remainder of the eight-story public parking garage.

In a prepared statement, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says he is enthusiastic about the city’s partnership with the museum, which will bring another significant landmark to the downtown core.

The Beck Group is overseeing construction of the museum, which will include a 30,000-square-feet gallery space, 6,000-square feet event space, 120-seat theater, indoor sculpture court, commercial catering kitchen, café and museum store.

St. Pete Design Group, a joint venture between Harvard Jolly Architecture, Architect Yann Weymouth and Wanemacher Jensen Architects, are designing the exterior and interior.  

Weymouth designed The Dali Museum, now a major draw for visitors internationally to the city. The design for the new James Museum is expected to be just as distinctive architecturally. In addition to the 105-ton stone mesa on the front of the building, interior features include a two-story stone arroyo and waterfall.

Driving economic development

The museum’s construction presents significant development opportunities for the 100 block of Central Avenue.  

Besides transforming a 30-year-old city parking garage into a museum, the team will be creating 35,000-square-feet of retail space on the east and west side of the garage -- prime street level property that is expected to transform this corner of downtown.  

The Sembler Company is leasing ground floor retail units and Echelon Real Estate Services is leasing the Class A Office space located on the second floor.

“When we selected the museum’s location, we had in mind that we should help build and beautify that part of downtown, encourage development of hotels and other amenities for residents and visitors and make the area more attractive and pedestrian friendly,”  Tom James said at an event last year announcing the launch of the new museum. “We could have given our collection to other museums or have sold it, but we thought what better opportunity to continue the development of our city.”

Venture House moves forward on affordable housing

In South St. Petersburg, Venture House is taking the first steps toward creating affordable housing for artists, entrepreneurs, social innovators and small business owners.

In May, the nonprofit community development organization finalized architectural plans and began interior demolition on a home in the Lake Maggiore Shores neighborhood.  In June, three more properties in the Bartlett Park neighborhood were added to the list.

“It is really exciting to see us move from a great idea into taking action,” says Frank Wells, President and CEO of Venture House. “Three years ago we began just as a seed of an idea -- a winning pitch at a social enterprise contest. It’s amazing to see how much has grown out of this little seed.”

As reported in the July 2014 article in 83 Degrees Media, Venture House is working in partnership with Bright Community Trust, a Clearwater-based community land trust with a goal of “creating healthy and sustainable communities across Florida.”

Both Bright Community Trust, formerly known as the Pinellas Community Housing Foundation, and Venture House are focused on buying run-down, boarded-up homes in “blighted” neighborhoods and turning them into attractive, affordable housing.  

The goal is not only to create quality housing but also in a much bigger sense to revitalize struggling communities plagued by poverty. “Social enterprise is a big part of our mission -- how to use housing as a tool to improve and build community,” says Wells.

It’s also about giving a boost to local residents by helping increase their property values and offering a helping hand to entrepreneurs who can then create local jobs.

Southside CRA designation

Lake Maggiore Shores and Bartlett Park are neighborhoods located within the city’s Southside CRA or Community Redevelopment Area. Some 4,700 acres in South St. Petersburg and more than 20 neighborhood and business associations are included in this designation.  

It’s all part of a long-term plan to bring economic development and revitalization to South St. Petersburg through several initiatives, including improving and rehabbing the housing market to “expand opportunities for entrepreneurs, minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises and small businesses.” 

The City of St. Petersburg is working with Venture House to identify suitable housing to rehab. The Bartlett Park homes will be new construction built on three vacant lots -- lots that the City of St. Petersburg agreed to give Venture House to fulfill the organization’s community land trust mission.

“It matches the city’s goal of in-filling new construction to make the whole block nicer for local residents,” he says.

Wells expects a bid to go out in the near future to identify a local builder to work with Venture House on the construction. Funding is coming from a combination of private donation and both federal and local funds. 

Showcase demonstration home 

The Lake Maggiore Shores’ home has a slightly different vision.  It will become a showcase demonstration home for Venture House, says Wells.

A “call” has gone out for artists to submit ideas for a proposed art project that will become a permanent fixture in the home.  

“We hope to have an event in the fall where we’ll present all the different artist ideas and have the audience vote on them. Then we’ll crowd-fund those projects that are the favorites,” says Wells.

So far, FunktionHouse, a St. Petersburg artisan furniture  maker who uses locally sourced recycled local trees, will be donating a recycled wood bar top, and the Morean Arts Center, will be creating a glass wall piece, says Wells.

In addition, community volunteers and groups like the Home Builders Institute, a career training organization for the construction industry, have been helping begun demolishing the current structure to get ready for renovation.

The Maggiore Shores showcase home is expected to be finished by early next year.  But the other three homes in the Bartlett Park neighborhood are expected to be ready for occupancy much sooner.

“Our goal is to get those houses built and people moved into them,” says Wells.

Individuals eligible to live in a Venture House-sponsored property aren’t limited to just artists and entrepreneurs in the traditional sense. 

“We’re looking at the arts in a very broad sense. Not just painters and sculptors, but also opera singers, hip hop DJ’s, spoken word artists and poets,” says Wells.

The same scenario applies to entrepreneurs. “It’s not just the next new graduate writing a phone App, but someone launching a catering or restaurant business, landscaping, braiding hair, or even an activist doing great community work,” says Wells.  

“It was Watson Haynes (president and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League) who opened up my eyes to this idea,” says Wells. “Entrepreneurship can be a path to developing wealth that changes the outcome for the homeowner and the community, especially for people who find there aren’t a lot of job opportunities open to them. Entrepreneurship can be a transformative tool for South St. Petersburg and many other communities.”

What's next for downtown Clearwater? Craft breweries, winery, beer fest

As the City of Clearwater anticipates a waterfront revival thanks to the recent City Council approval of the Imagine Clearwater redevelopment project, Jay Polglaze, executive director of the Clearwater Downtown Partnership and former city councilor, says the downtown area could get an additional boost from an unexpected source: local craft brewers.

Over the past 15 years, the Tampa Bay Area has enjoyed the economic benefits of “the microbrewery craze,” he says. This movement has largely bypassed Clearwater, however, because of laws on the books that prohibited the manufacture and distribution of craft beer downtown. These laws were finally modified last year, when Polglaze was still on council, to pave the way for breweries to operate downtown.

Though he lost his re-election bid in March 2016, he immediately began working for the Clearwater Downtown Partnership, where he focuses on the economic vibrancy of the city’s downtown area. One of the major missing components that would help create a thriving downtown is craft beer, he says.

“My best advisors are my 27-year-old son and my 24-year-old daughter,” Polglaze says. “When I ask them what’s missing, they’re pretty specific: 'craft beer'.”

He recently attended an “inspiring” presentation on “craft urbanism” that featured Tampa Bay-area brewers, including Joey Redner, founder of Tampa’s Cigar City Brewing, and Mike Harding, founder of 3 Daughters Brewing in St. Petersburg.

“You can get this urban core reignited by creating this community of microbreweries,” Polglaze says.

He adds, “It works. Look at Dunedin, St. Petersburg, Tampa, all across the country. It’s a huge movement right now.”

This is why the Clearwater Downtown Partnership has partnered with the city of Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment Agency to launch the first annual Downtown Clearwater Craft Beer and Music Fest Saturday, May 20, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., on Cleveland Street between Fort Harrison and East Avenues.

The free event will feature more than 50 brewers from throughout the state, including 3 Daughters, Cigar City, Cycle Brewing, Big Storm Brewing Co., Hidden Springs Aleworks, MIA Brewing Company, and House of Beer Brewing, which is one of the co-producers of the event.

Eight musical acts will perform on two stages throughout the day. There will also be a variety of arts and crafts vendors, food trucks, and an activity area for children.

Polglaze says he expects the event to draw between 8,000 and 10,000 people. He also hopes that it will show visiting brewers the potential of downtown Clearwater. The city is actively “courting” local brewers, including the Dunedin-based House of Beer.
 
“We’re really close to being able to announce our first couple of breweries,” he says. He anticipates having contracts signed with local brewers and also a local winery by the end of June.

Looking north, Dunedin already has nine breweries within city limits, he says. “So the next logical expansion is Clearwater.”
He hopes to have an anchor brewery open on Cleveland Street with other brewers setting up shop on side streets.

The impending downtown renaissance, especially if it features local brewers, will build on what is already a popular tourist destination, he adds.

Polglaze says, “We want to create a great companion downtown to America’s number one beach. There’s a lot of great things going on in Clearwater. We’re getting a lot of movement right now. I really believe the beverage and food industry will be the spark plug that gets this thing going.”

New studio space coming to St. Pete Warehouse Arts District

New studio space is coming to St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District and the community is invited to come take a peek at the progress on Thursday, April 27th.

At a “Hard Hat Celebration” and fundraiser, the St. Pete Warehouse Art District Association will showcase the ArtsxChange, a project that converts 50,000 square feet of space into affordable art studios as part of the association’s commitment to the local art community.

“It’s a chance to get people up to date on the project, which has been in the works for several years, let our sponsors and donors see where their money has gone and to really invite artists into the area to bear witness to our commitment to provide affordable space for them to create,” WADA Executive Director Mary Jane Park says.

The event begins at 4:30 p.m. and includes art by incoming ArtsXchange artists, live music, food and drinks, remarks from St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and more. The new studios, located at 515 22nd St. S, are currently under construction and attendees will have the opportunity to view progress. A $20 donation to WADA is suggested but the event is free to attend.

WADA has branded the ArtsxChange as a resource for the city, local artists and the community by creating “sustainable and affordable art studios and educational space.” The first phase of development began in March and is expected to conclude in mid-summer. It includes a 1,500-square-foot community space for art exhibitions and educational programing as well as 28 studios.

Smith and Associates CEO Bob Glaser says his business is sponsoring the ArtsxChange because it improves the community and adds opportunity for residents.

“It’s going to bring a lot of positive change to the market place,” he says.

For more information on the event, to register and to view a list of ArtsXchange sponsors visit WADA online.

Tampa Bay History Center grows up and out, stays on track with $11M expansion

The Tampa Bay History Center is experiencing smooth sailing so far on an expansion project that will bring the area’s pirate lore to life.

“Knocking on wood, everything is going well,” says C.J. Roberts, History Center President and CEO.

Roberts says construction crews are slightly ahead of schedule on the building expansion that will house the new “Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates & Shipwrecks” gallery -- an addition that includes a 60-foot replica of a sailing vessel as its centerpiece and will focus on the stories of Florida’s early explorers.

As construction continues, the Pinellas Park-based Creative Arts is working to design the exhibits and a theatre company out of Boston is writing an “immersive pirate theatre experience” to complement the new gallery, which should be complete before the end of the year.

The expansion is just one part of an $11 million capital campaign, which Roberts says he is hopeful will be completed successfully in another year or so.

The goal of the capital campaign is to raise $5 million for the new gallery and maintenance on the existing structure, $5 million for the center’s endowment -- which funds about 25 percent of operating costs annually -- and $1 million for the new Florida Center for Cartography, a joint effort with the University of South Florida.

“We’ve raised $7.5 million dollars to date,” says Roberts.“We’ve got good wind in our sails, and I am optimistic that we’re going to be successful in completing this campaign.”

The full-size ship included in the gallery aims to provide an immersive experience that will help dispel some myths or misconceptions about pirates while providing a unique chance to learn about navigation, engineering and mathematics.

“These stories of early navigation and maritime exploration really lend themselves very well to pulling out those kinds of educational opportunities,” Roberts says.

Roberts hopes this expansion will broaden the center’s reach by telling stories that go beyond our backyard in the Bay Area.

“This is not a Tampa or Hillsborough story, as many of our other exhibits are,” he says. “This really is a Florida story.”

The Tampa Bay History Center’s expansion project is just one part of a period of exciting growth for the downtown area and Roberts is eager for the next chapter in Tampa’s story.

“We’re excited about the contribution this will make to an already growing downtown,” he says. “I think that we’re in a good place, and the future for both downtown Tampa and the history center looks pretty bright.”

Time to get outdoors to play: Springtime spawns local art festivals

As part of its efforts to revive Station Square Park, the city of Clearwater is holding the first in a series of paint parties/art bazaars at the Cleveland Street Park. Painting in the Park - Art Bazaar at Station Square Park kicks off from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 1, and continues on the first and third Saturdays through June.

“It’s going to be a real active event with lots of art and live music, an open-air painting class,” says Jennie Pearl, the event coordinator, an artist who will teach the $35 painting class. “It’s going to grow. So far we’ve had such a wonderful response.”

The free event sponsored by the city of Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment Agency and Parks and Recreation Department, also features live music by Sal Belloise (known as Guitar Sal), art by Kelly Strong, beer and wine tasting, body/face painting and unique vendors offering items like Hawaiian Island soaps and wearable-art clothing.

A muralist, Pearl still is recruiting for the upcoming events. “I’m looking for comedians, jugglers, hoola hoopers, massage therapists,” says Pearl, who won the 2016 Clearwater’s Downtown Gateway Art Project. “It’s all the arts."

Plans developed after visitors were polled at a grand reopening of the park in February. “They wanted art, they wanted music and entertainment,” says Laura Canary, Community Redevelopment Coordinator. “They also wanted … some type of adult component, some kind of nightlife in the park as well.”

Meanwhile in Tampa, the 6th Annual International Cuban Sandwich Art and Food Festival is underway from noon until 6 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City. Saturday’s agenda? Trying to make the largest Cuban sandwich. The event continues from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, with competitors worldwide competing for awards.

The Safety Harbor Songfest is taking place April 1 and 2 at Safety Harbor Music and Art Center and Waterfront Park, featuring the Wood Brothers, Rising Appalachia, and more. It supports the nonprofit art center’s events; music begins at 11 a.m. both days.

The Tampa Bay Blues Festival is coming to Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg April 7, 8, and 9.  The event kicks off with Dennis Gruenling at 12:30 p.m. Friday, and includes The Rides with Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Barry Goldberg Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

Organizers of the free, two-day Mainsail Art Festival April 22 and 23, who are expecting to draw some 100,000, also are gearing up for the juried art competition at Vinoy Park. Some $60,000 will be awarded to prize winners at the festival, which began in 1976 when the city’s Bicentennial Committee, the St, Petersburg Recreation Department and St. Petersburg Arts Commission collaborated on a sidewalk arts and colonial crafts festival.

“It wasn’t a juried show. Now it’s one of the top in the country,” says Lisa Wells, who chairs the all-volunteer planning committee. “The prize money’s grown, everything’s grown. ... The quality has gotten better.”

The event, sponsored by the city, Junior League of St. Petersburg, and Tampa Bay Times, was among the top 20 best shows by Wisconsin-based Sunshine Artist magazine in 2016.

The festival, which draws more than 250 exhibiting artists, runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 22 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 23. The lineup includes Jah Movement Reggae Band at noon April 22,  Souliz at 4:30 p.m. April 22, and singer-songwriter-instrumenalist Damon Fowler at 3:45 p.m. April 23.

The city is seeking volunteers, who can signup online.

Here are some other art-related events planned in the Tampa Bay area during April.

Broad Comedy, a benefit for Planned Parenthood, is slated from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. April 6 at Ybor’s CL Space, 1911 N. 13th St. It features standup comics Robin Savage and Becca Childs, along with writers Lori Shannon and Cathy Salustri.

• Coffee lovers can check out the Tampa Bay Coffee and Art Festival from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 8 at The Noise Box, 1310 John Moore Road, Brandon. The festival features craft coffee roasters from Florida and local artists, food trucks and desserts.

• The Latin Music Festival is slated April 8 at 5730 Shore Blvd. S., Gulfport. The concert, on Boca Ciega Bay from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., will include recording artists Orchestra Fuego, The Latin Jazz Knights, Freddy Montez, Victor J. Moreno with Esther Suarez, and Eddie Garrido. It is the first of a series of annual Latin Music Festivals. Admission is $15; children under 10 are free.

• Gulfport’s annual Springfest Garden Art and Faerie Festival is slated from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 14 and 15 at Clymer Park at 5501 27th Ave. S. Renaissance-era characters will roam at the event featuring a Good Friday Fish Fry, May Pole dances, a costume contest, and live music. Admission is free; complimentary parking is offered. More information is available at Springfest's Facebook page or 727-322-5217.

The SunLit Festival kicks off with a party from 7 to 9 p.m. April 6 at the Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg. The third annual event runs April 10 through 25, bringing together literary organizations and others.

• The Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, in its 36th year, is slated April 21 to April 23 at St. Petersburg Coliseum. The fair is a mecca for book lovers, offering books on just about any topic.


New Sulphur Springs Museum honors local history

Tampa history buffs will have a new place to explore when the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center opens on February 4. The new landmark, located at Mann-Wagnon Park in Sulphur Springs, will serve as a community hub for the re-emerging Central Tampa neighborhood. 

According to Norma Robinson, a co-founder of the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center, the grand opening of the new facility is slated for noon on the first Saturday of February. “We hope to have the ribbon cutting at 12,” she says. “We’ll have different activities throughout the day, including guided tours.” 

When the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center opens its doors, guests will find an array of things to see and do there. One of the headlining attractions is “Sulphur Springs: An Enduring Legacy.” The permanent exhibit profiles the history of the Sulphur Springs neighborhood, which traces its roots back to the 1880s. The area flourished as a tourist destination in the early 20th century when developer Josiah Richardson oversaw the creation of a resort around the area’s springs, which were believed by many to have healing properties. The Sulphur Springs Arcade, the neighborhood’s iconic 214-foot-tall water tower, and Sulphur Springs Pool are just some of the historic landmarks honored at the museum. 

“Many students from the University of South Florida [http://www.usf.edu/ ](USF) did research,” Robinson says of the museum’s historical elements. Several images and other artifacts derive from the USF Tampa Library Special and Digital Collections and the Florida State Archive collection. 

The Sulphur Springs Museum also opens with “Water | Ways,” a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit that will be open from February 4 through March 18, 2017. “We’re one of six cities in Florida chosen for the exhibit, which shows the different ways water affects our lives,” explains Robinson. “Water | Ways” explores the impact of water environmentally, culturally, and historically. 

The museum will also host Our Florida, Our History lecture series, which includes an array of slated speakers for February such as USF history professor Gary Mormino, Hillsborough Community College Dean of Associate of Arts Jim Wysong, and African American diaspora expert Anthony E. Dixon. The series continues into March with appearances by climate science author Dr. Mark R. Hafen and Florida culture author Craig Pittman. 

The Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center is the culmination of many years of tireless effort by Norma Robinson and her husband, Joseph. When the couple moved from New York to Tampa in 1997, they chose Sulphur Springs as their new home. They have worked tirelessly for two decades to improve the community, which for years was known as one of Tampa’s most poverty-stricken neighborhoods. The Robinsons were honored by the Tampa Bay Lightning as Community Heroes in 2015, when they received a $50,000 donation from the Lightning Foundation. Much of those funds were invested into building the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center, which was a dream first envisioned more than a decade ago. 

Admission to the Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center is free, Robinson says, “but donations are strongly encouraged and welcomed!”

When and where 

What: Sulphur Springs Museum and Heritage Center Grand Opening
When: February 4, 2017, noon to 4 p.m.
Things To Do: Sulphur Springs: An Enduring Legacy history exhibit, Water | Ways Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit, guided tours, food, drinks
Address: 1101 E. River Cove Street, Tampa, Florida 33604

A peak inside: Safety Harbor Art & Music Center opens in northern Pinellas County

The Safety Harbor home of artists Todd Ramquist and Kiaralinda is hard to miss.

Some know the brightly painted and tiled cottage surrounded by yard sculptures as Whimzeyland. Others affectionately refer to it as “the bowling ball house” because of the rows of decorated bowling balls that adorn the home’s yard. For many, it’s a local landmark, and listed on numerous “roadside attraction” websites.

The couple also used their home to bring the arts to their community in other ways, hosting house concerts and local artists. As this grew, Kiaralinda realized they’d eventually need a bigger venue. “When you have 170 people in your gazebo and in your front yard listening to music, it’s kind of time to move it somewhere else,” she says.

Now, after five years of planning, raising funds and construction, their new venue, the Safety Harbor Art & Music Center (SHAM), has opened in the city’s downtown, at 706 Second St. N. The artistic hub for northern Pinellas County opened its doors over Thanksgiving weekend with a three-day celebration, SHAMsgiving. They followed this up with a 12 Days of Christmas holiday event. 

“It’s pretty much a dream come true,” Kiaralinda says. The new venue is a larger-scale version of their home. “There’s art everywhere.”

SHAMc, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, became a possibility for the couple when they won a $50,000 Pepsi Refresh Grant in 2011. Since the initial Pepsi grant, the project has been funded by a mix of donations, fundraisers and grants from the city. The plan was to create a center dedicated to all facets of the arts -- visual arts, music, literature, performing arts -- which is exactly what the venue is, Kiaralinda says. “We’re filling the calendar faster than we ever imagined we would, ever since we opened the doors,” she adds. 

Laura Kepner, founder of the Safety Harbor Writers & Poets, which now hosts its monthly open mics at SHAMc, says the local arts scene wouldn’t be what it is without Kiaralinda and Ramquist. 

“They support me with the open mic,” she says. “The really cool thing about [them] is if you want to do something with your art, whatever your art is, they’re probably going to cheer you on and say, how can we work together?”

The SHAM project transformed the Rigsby House, “a woodsy building” on the property when they purchased it, Kiaralinda says. “The old house was saved and resurrected. We did what we could to keep that alive.”

The original home is now called the ARTery, a space for workshops and to showcase local artwork. They also built a new two-story building called the ODDitorium, where the larger performances and events will take place.

Now, the folks behind SHAMc are planning their annual Safety Harbor SongFest, which is set for April 1 at Waterfront Park. The two-day music festival, which will feature artists including Magic Giant, Rising Appalachia, Charlie Mars and Joe Craven this year, will serve as a fundraiser for the new arts center.

Kiaralinda says SHAMc has a deep volunteer base of about 300 or so. “It’s been a really, really good ride, and we’ve had a lot of support,” she says, despite delays in funding and construction.

Though she and Ramquist have long been a staple of the Safety Harbor arts scene, she’s amazed by the response she’s received since SHAMc opened. “It’s crazy how many people walk through here and want to do things,” she says.
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