By Janelle Irwin – Reporter, Tampa Bay Business Journal
The Warehouse Arts District Association is asking the state for $500,000 to continue renovations within the district aimed at economic development throughout the city. If approved, the appropriation would pay for an arts education center in the up-and-coming St. Petersburg district near Midtown. Any leftover funds would be used to create additional large studios for artists who need more space like sculptors and welders.
The district is an economic development catalyst in the area wedged between one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods and the popular Grand Central District. City leaders hope the Warehouse Arts District’s popularity stemming from the well-attended monthly Art Walk to interactive studio spaces like Zen Glass will have a spillover effect into surrounding neighborhoods surrounding it.
In an appropriations request that Warehouse Arts District Association Vice President Rob Kapusta filed, he says funding would help add artists to the district, which could increase jobs and attract local visitors and tourists.
The filing lists substantial community support for increasing studio space in the district including a $175,000 financial commitment from the city of St. Pete and $550,000 in private investments. The St. Petersburg Downtown Partnership also contributed $40,000, the document shows.
The Legislature approved $400,000 for similar renovations within the district in its 2017-18 budget. That money renovated a large warehouse adjacent to the Pinellas Trail into 28 artist studios that are now completed and 100 percent occupied. One of the artists relocated to St. Pete from Puerto Rico after being displaced by Hurricane Maria, according to Kapusta.
The current funding ask would be appropriated the following budget year to continue that growth.
The district sits between First Avenue North and 10th Avenue South and between 16th and 31st streets. It’s populated mostly by warehouses and small manufacturing facilities.
As spaces became increasingly vacant and the buildings in disrepair, artists saw an opportunity to revive the community into an arts district by taking advantage of affordable rent. An informal group of artists began looking at ways to revitalize the area in 2011.
While the district has a long way to go before it is one of the city’s hot spots, it’s following a similar path as the Edge and Grand Central districts as well as the 600 block of Central Avenue. Those areas are now populated with hip bars, restaurants and boutiques, and property values are reflecting the growth.
Some of the original occupants along the 600 block of Central Avenue have since been priced out due to rising property values. Kapusta said the Warehouse Arts District Association, a non-profit organization, plans to preserve affordable rent in the space it owns and is continuing to renovate.
The Warehouse Arts District shares another successful tool — it’s bisected by the Pinellas Trail and easily connected to downtown. As the city looks to redevelop land on the Tropicana Field site, the district’s prospects become even brighter. A Tropicana Field master plan puts new development adjacent to the Warehouse Arts District that could further drive economic development.
The 2018 Legislative Session convenes Jan. 9.