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Community Voices: Creative placemaking’s place in redevelopment

John Collins

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Artist Ilan Averbuch speaks at the July 15, 2021 dedication ceremony of his Central Avenue sculpture in the Edge District. From left, art selection committee members Laura Bryant, Mark Ferrulo, Dan Harvey Jr. and Leslie Curran. At right: Edge District Association executive director Barbara Voglewede. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

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I urge that the RFP process for the Historic Gas Plant District redevelopment recognize the cohesion and inclusion that creative placemaking can offer. Please require that proposals address the intersection of artistic and innovative practices with private-public planning for community revitalization.

Cultural and business development can achieve the goals of affordable housing because artists are among those who need housing or live-work space. Creative thinking with regard to first-class office buildings can lead to interactive and responsive public programs, artful projects, and neighborhood engagement. Innovative design and publicly accessible green spaces coupled with affordable housing can be a cultural community for everyone. 

The district can be a hub for creativity, collaboration, and arts development – a proven springboard again and again for business development and relocation. The arts community and elected leadership led the renovation of the 600 block which grew into the Central Arts District. Most important, Central Avenue is a success because of its human scale; people love walking and discovering places to shop, eat and meet. Our other arts districts are real life examples now attracting investment, and the new development can serve as a pedestrian friendly cultural anchor.

The RFP will no doubt ask for conference center ideas. Ask developers to look at this as an opportunity for creative partnerships, rather than simply slapping murals on concrete buildings. For example, the components of a cultural arts center could complement a full-service conference center by offering programming that serves as a gateway to the entire cultural community. Including space for galleries, arts education classes, and arts-related retail businesses will stimulate development for all.  

The return on such financial and human investment contributes to the social culture of our community, bringing us together for shared experiences that bridge invisible borders. Addressing administrative and topical issues in public policy with arts policy will contribute to community enhancement and diversity; help meet business and residents’ needs; and serve as a home that is a source of pride for our residents and businesses.

Arts & culture strategic advisor John Collins is the former executive director of the St. Petersburg Arts Alliance.

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