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.”