The Warehouse Arts District will soon be home to a multi-faceted creative arts and entrepreneurship project to house the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance headquarters, a brewing arts incubation project; and a working artists collective. The projects, submitted separately by the same entity, were awarded a total of $300,000 in grant funding from the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area Commercial Revitalization Program during Thursday’s City Council meeting.
The project will be split between two separate sites. On the 2600 block of Fairfield Ave South, the $1.74 million St. Petersburg Arts Alliance project will renovate two vacant warehouses into a new headquarters with office and classroom space, as well as performing arts spaces for theater and dance classes, rehearsal and production space. On that same block, the $1.75 million Fairgrounds project will renovate a vacant warehouse into an artist cooperative, hiring local arts and makers from the Community Revitalization Area (CRA). At the 800 block of 28th St. South, the $1.67 million Brewery Collective project will re-make a “vehicle inspection station and warehouse” into a craft brewing incubator that will include beer manufacturing space, a tasting room, and office space.
The project was not approved without controversy. Convened as South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), the motions were passed separately, due to objections by Council member Steve Kornell. The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance project was approved unanimously, but the motion with the Brewery Collective and Fairgrounds was approved 6-1, with Kornell voting against and Council member Brandi Gabbard being absent. Kornell argued that the Fairgrounds and Brewing Collective projects were not part of the intended purpose of the CRA funds, which were originally allocated by the county to reduce poverty and blight due to egregious government policies in South St. Petersburg. Council member Amy Foster echoed Kornell’s concerns, arguing that the CRA grant requirements should be updated to reflect the intention of the grants.
Council member Gina Driscoll spoke in favor of the projects.
“I want to point out that these projects are going into vacant spaces, so what we’re doing is reducing blight, which can reduce poverty if done right,” Driscoll said. “The St. Petersburg Arts Alliance is one of the most diverse arts organizations in the Tampa Bay area. They have been working with different schools and people of all walks of life for years, and have been one of the major elements of our arts community that we are so proud of. To have them want to go from downtown into the South St. Petersburg CRA – let’s help them do that … it would do nothing but benefit our whole city and help move the CRA in the direction that we want it to go.”
Driscoll also made a business case for the Fairgrounds project, “We have so many folks who live in the South St. Pete CRA who are artists and makers who have no space to do their work, to show their work, display and sell their work. Let’s help the Fairgrounds make that happen. That’s business development for the St. Pete CRA.”
Liz Dimmitt, speaking on behalf of the Fairgrounds, made a case for arts in the CRA. “I wanted to bring up the idea that economically challenged communities deserve the right to have engaging cultural opportunities within their own neighborhoods,” said Dimmitt. “Instead of having to drive downtown and pay $20 for parking.”
Kara Behar, owner of Behar + Peteranecz Architecture and one of the applicants behind the project, said its approach is unique. “We have been very thoughtful in our approach of how to develop this without tearing down the buildings, without changing the neighborhoods dramatically, and we are leveraging that knowledge to make it work.” Behar + Peteranecz Architecture currently resides in the Warehouse Arts District, where it hosts local nonprofit Keep St. Pete Lit in the firm’s space, as well as a local working artist.