ULI Tampa Bay launches Art in Place to connect art and development

In West River, the mixed-use, mixed-income West Tampa neighborhood on the former site of the North Boulevard Homes public housing complex, artist Ya La’ford’s sculpture “Boulevard Flow” shows how incorporating public art in a development project enhances a sense of place and community.

In downtown Tampa’s Encore district, bright murals depict the rich musical history of a site where artists like Ray Charles stayed during segregation in The Scrub, once Tampa’s oldest and largest African American neighborhood.

In another area of downtown, a pop-up art event put on by Visit Tampa Bay and the Tampa Arts Alliance in December includes a Tampa City Ballet performance and live mural painting. At sites across downtown, the Tampa Downtown Partnership has sponsored mural projects and a series of pop-up art events.

In Ybor City, the arts are a core piece of developer Darryl Shaw’s vision to draw more residents, tourists and businesses to the historic district and surrounding areas.

Building on these types of efforts to mix art into development and building connections between creatives and real estate developers are the focus of Art in Place, a new initiative from Urban Land Institute Tampa Bay.

During a January launch event at the Tampa Museum of Art, ULI Tampa Bay Executive Board member Taylor Ralph, the founder and president of Tampa-based REAL Building Consultants, says the local program came about after Tampa Arts Alliance Executive Director Michele Smith and City of Tampa Arts & Cultural Affairs Manager Robin Nigh spoke to the chapter’s Placemaking Council about incorporating art in development to create a sense of identity and enhance placemaking. 

From there, Ralph looked for any ULI grant programs focused on better incorporating art into development. There is indeed a grant and ULI Tampa Bay is one of only nine chapters worldwide to secure funding through it. Following the kick-off event, meetings are planned for St. Petersburg in February and Tampa in March. 

Connecting art and development

La’ford, the Tampa-based international artist who created the “Boulevard Flow” sculpture in West River, is also working on a public art installation for Orange Station, the mixed-use condominium and retail project being built on the former site of the St. Petersburg Police Department headquarters. The sculpture “Courageous 12” will honor the Black St. Petersburg police officers who fought a long but eventually victorious court battle in the 1960s against department policies that did not allow them to patrol white neighborhoods.

At the Art in Tampa launch event, La’ford says there is a natural connection between art and development.

“Artists are very much like developers,” she says. “They get a blank canvas of space and then they build up on it.”

The Tampa Housing Authority has incorporated public art into its West River and Encore districts. In both cases, the Housing Authority partnered with private developers to redevelop former public housing complex properties into mixed-use, mixed-income developments. At the Art in Place event, Tampa Housing Authority Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Leroy Moore says murals and public art help tell and preserve a community’s history as it goes through redevelopment. He says the deep history and cultural and musical significance of The Scrub inspired the public art at Encore.

“That was our brand,” Moore says. 

In Ybor City, Shaw has worked with the nonprofit arts organization Tempus Projects and other partners to establish an arts hub in the historic Ybor Kress Building. During the Art in Place launch, Shaw says the arts “are a very significant component” of the vision for transforming Ybor into a more residential neighborhood. Affordable housing for artists, public art, art galleries and destination art institutions are all part of that strategy.

“Creating an arts district in Ybor will benefit Ybor,  benefit Tampa and benefit the Tampa Bay area,” Shaw says. “Those creative folks who currently move to New York or somewhere else to be able to make a living, if we can create an ecosystem where they can create art,  sell art and make a living, we can attract and retain them.”

For more information, go to Art in Place and ULI Tampa Bay.
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Read more articles by Christopher Curry.

Chris Curry has been a writer for the 83 Degrees Media team since 2017. Chris also served as the development editor for a time before assuming the role of managing editor in May 2022. Chris lives in Clearwater. His professional career includes more than 15 years as a newspaper reporter, primarily in Ocala and Gainesville, before moving back home to the Tampa Bay Area. He enjoys the local music scene, the warm winters and Tampa Bay's abundance of outdoor festivals and events. When he's not working or spending time with family, he can frequently be found hoofing the trails at one of Pinellas County's nature parks.