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Committee considers possibilities for St. Pete’s ‘Center of the Arts’

Bill DeYoung



Rendering of the proposed 'Center of the Arts' redevelopment. Images: City of St. Petersburg.

The City of St. Petersburg is drawing closer to establishing a section of bayfront as its “Center of the Arts.”

Talking Thursday to city council’s Public Services & Infrastructure Committee, Managing Director of Development Chris Ballestra described the area encompassing the Mahaffey Theater and the Dali Museum as desperately in need of re-evaluation and some sort of aesthetic unification.

“As you can see,” Ballestra said, displaying an aerial photograph of the existing acreage, “there’s not much permeable greenspace. It’s all asphalt.”

Together the theater, the museum and the springtime Firestone Grand Prix bring more than one million people to the zone each year, he explained.

Ballestra suggested the commissions of economic, architectural and financial impact studies in order to ascertain the feasibility of his proposed changes to parking, ingress/egress and other “reimagining” ideas. The goal: a Master Plan for the “Center for the Arts.”

Ballestra displayed renderings that included a new Mahaffey entrance, requested by the facility’s manager Bill Edwards, and the Dali’s long-desired expansion for its new artificial intelligence galleries and work spaces.

The proposed design eliminates all open parking lots and adds a massive, one-for-all parking garage along 1st Avenue South.

Included, too, is significant greenspace.

Ballestra told committee members that the area, first developed as part of the now-demolished Bayfront Center in 1965, has been expanded and added onto in a piecemeal fashion over the years, without regard for continuity.

“From Al Lang Field south to what’s now the Dali, we haven’t put a lot of effort into what is one of the biggest economic engines in the city,” he said. The new plan would entail a “more comprehensive approach” to changes.

“Looking at some of these photos, it’s time to take a fresh look at this area,” said committee chair Gina Driscoll. “Look at all that surface parking! It’s time for something new here. The Dali is growing, the Mahaffey is thriving. And of course the Grand Prix continues to be very popular.” She also spoke of the Innovation District to the south, and the recent and ongoing progress in that area.

No timeframe was established for the studies, nor were cost estimates for the potential redevelopment.

“We’ve looked at rough numbers, and they’re all scary, which you would expect at this level,” Ballestra explained. “But we’re planning right now.”

There was discussion among committee members as to where the money, once any project is approved by the full council, would come from.

Committee member Copley Gerdes had a suggestion. “I think Al Lang gets lost in the shuffle a little bit …,” he said. “I would love to see that as a part of this.

“I really believe that to really activate this space, we have to make Al Lang be what it should be. A part of this amazing plan.”

Rendering of a Grand Prix race day.














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  1. Avatar

    Charlie Souza

    April 16, 2022at10:52 am

    That’s exactly where the Hall & Museum should be located in the new arts center!
    Someone there knows that all too well.
    Pass that along to the committee! 
    We have several people interested to include Tom Gribbin.
    Let’s take some action!  I’m sure we could all pull this together for the good of the city! ‘’
    Best Regards,
    Charlie Souza

  2. Avatar


    April 16, 2022at4:27 pm

    Where is this $ going to come from? We don’t want any more taxes. Why not put this effort into a money making venture like building the new municipal marina?

  3. Avatar

    David B

    April 17, 2022at2:14 pm

    Interesting idea except for the part about the Grand Prix, we need to get rid of that.

  4. Avatar

    Donna Kostreva

    April 18, 2022at3:27 pm

    Here we see proposed, a walkway from nowhere to nowhere for no one.

    How do the partrons of Mahaffey and Dali currently arrive at their destinations? They park in the garage and lot already on site.

    Where is this magical new “green space” alluded to in the article, under the semi-tractor trailer parking pictured? Where are those rigs housed the other 51 weeks of the year when not used for the Grand Prix?

    With the highest inflation rate in forty years already in place, and recession looming, should we be thinking about nonsensical expenditures on the backs of the already overwhelmed taxpayers?

    Which pockets are already being lined with the contracts for tons of concrete being poured all over town, slicing into main transit arteries for a few bus riders on mostly empty buses?

    Better to spend money on the Museum of Fine Arts, or any of the already established art museums in the City,create Moblie Art centers for school children, mini shuttle buses for free weekly art hops from venue to venue. Most taxpayers have never stepped foot in the new museums due to the ticket costs !

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