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Building a creative arts district
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Photo by TIFFANY RAZZANO
The Pinellas Arts Village, located from Park Station, 5851 Park Blvd., through the 5600 and 5700 blocks of Park Boulevard, is an emerging creative arts district with galleries, shops and a monthly art walk. The next art walk will take place Saturday, July 22, 4 to 8 p.m.
PINELLAS PARK – The stretch of Park Boulevard just east of the railroad tracks has always been a hub for the city of Pinellas Park, said Debra Rose, director of cultural affairs.

So it’s an ideal spot for an arts district offering a variety of galleries and activities, including a monthly art walk, that draw city residents and visitors to the area.

The city has actively focused on building what’s known as the Pinellas Arts Village, which spans from Park Station through the 5600 and 5700 blocks of Park Boulevard, and located in the Community Redevelopment District, for the past two years.

But the seeds for the creative district were planted well before that, Rose said.

Beaux Arts Coffeehouse on 60th Street North, just blocks from where the Pinellas Arts Village is located, supported a vibrant arts scene in the city from the 1950s until it burned down several decades later. Jim Morrision, who attended St. Petersburg Junior College, read his poetry at open mics there. Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, who spent his final years in St. Petersburg, visited a few times. Kerouac was even allegedly thrown out “for possibly exposing himself,” said local artist Boo Ehrsam.

Rose said, “I’ve only heard small, isolated stories and anecdotes about what it was. But there’s a history of arts in the area.”

In 2011, the city began a revitalization project in the United Cottages area, a neighborhood of small homes on equally small lots, located just behind the 5700 block of Park Boulevard.

“It’s a unique neighborhood,” Rose said.

It was rezoned as a mixed-use district and the city envisioned that it might attract artisans to the tiny cottages. So it improved drainage, installed decorative lighting and fixed up the streets, laying down pavers.

The city also purchased a number of the cottages with hopes of restoring them and renting them out.

“But that did not prove to be feasible,” Rose said.

Some were in such bad shape that the city was forced to tear them down. So far, Pinellas Park has built two live-work units on the empty lots in their place.

From 2012 to 2013, the city faced an increase in complaints regarding the blighted commercial strip in the 5600 block of Park Boulevard.

This area was home to the Suncoast Haven of Rescue Mission, which offered a number of services to homeless individuals and impoverished families in the area. However, residents and other businesses routinely complained about individuals loitering and trespassing on private property, sometimes showing up drunk or on drugs, sometimes stealing items from nearby yards.

The city reacted to the issues by purchasing the property owned by the rescue mission. Along the way, the city also scooped up several other properties in the strip and nearby, though some remain privately owned.

Originally, the Community Redevelopment Agency imagined the block could serve as a small business incubator. In 2012, the agency created the Pinellas Park Office Suites at 5663 Park Boulevard.

“The small business incubator would help local businesses grow and the idea was that eventually they would grow out of those facilities,” Rose said.

In 2013, the first artist moved into the neighborhood. The city provided Pompei Studios with a 10-year lease for a below-market rate studio space.

A variety of small businesses – a music school, art gallery, German cultural retail outlet – moved into the two live-work cottages in the United Cottages area. Then a second art gallery, the Swartz Gallery, was given a 10-year lease for a space at 5609 Park blvd. Rose also built a community art garden in the area during this time frame as well.

As arts and culture emerged in the area, the city reached out to Better Block, a Dallas-based organization that focuses on urban redevelopment through pop-up events. With the help of the non-profit group, the city hosted a Better Block event along the 5600 and 5700 blocks of Park Boulevard in October 2015. The event featured vendors, local artists, entertainment, food trucks and more. It was a true vision for what the area could be, Rose said.

“It all moved quickly from there,” she added.

Months later, the office suites became the Studios at 5663, which offers small, affordable studio spaces to artists.

Artist Derek Donnelly, who grew up in Pinellas Park and is well known in the St. Petersburg arts scene, moved into a storage container, live-work unit at 5705 Park Blvd. and opened his own gallery, COVE.

“The arts district is in my old neighborhood that I was fighting ever so hard to get out of at one point,” he said in a January 2017 interview with the Beacon. “But there is a cool group of people at the city working to create a really cool and sustainable arts district here. I knew I had to help hometown.”

Wordier Than Thou, a literary arts organization, and the Complete Sweet Shoppe, a bakery, currently operate out of the two live-work cottages in the United Cottages neighborhood.

Painting with a Twist, 5625 Park Blvd., has also moved into the new arts district, and Bottles Pub, 5619 Park Blvd. N., partners with the district, bringing music, craft beer and food options during art walk.

The next art walk will be held Saturday, July 22, 4 to 8 p.m. All of the shops and galleries will be open with special activities. The Pinellas Park Art Society will showcase their work and offer demonstrations at Park Station, 5851 Park Blvd. Park Station will also host a pop-up art market during the art walk.

“The arts district is exciting to me because it’s a way for us to provide an activity area for a population that had been working as artists in St. Petersburg or going to St. Petersburg for creative events,” Rose said. “They’ve been excited to see the arts district emerge and have a place to go locally. It’s a segment of the pop we haven’t been able to capture before and now they have a home within the city as well.”

The area is “growing organically” with a lot of potential for the future, she added.

The city has a number of properties in the United Cottages area to consider and could eventually build more live-work units.

The city is also poised to purchase two parcels located at 58th Street and Railroad Avenue, next to Park Station.

Rick Butler, vice mayor and CRA member, said the land will help alleviate parking issues in the area and would tie in nicely with the Pinellas Arts Village. The CRA is open to many uses for the building on that property, he said, from microbreweries to glass blowers and pottery studios.

“I’ve wanted [the property] for three or four years now,” he said in a May 2017 interview with the Beacon. “I knew it would be an intricate part of this district. You have to have flow to Park Station.”

Other developers and businesses are eyeing the arts district and surrounding area, as well, Rose said.

“A growing number of people come out for art walk who are interested in the area, and they’re looking and thinking right now,” she said.

She’s excited to see how the future of the arts district unfolds.

“I’m watching the interaction, that blend of different perspectives and ideas,” she said. “It’s creating all kinds of things that none of us could have foreseen.”
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