Pinellas needs a "cultural corridor" from Tarpon Springs to Largo along Alt. 19

Fall Arts 2018: North side renaissance

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ONES FOR THE ROAD: The cultural corridor, Forward Pinellas says, is to connect existing artwork — like this piece — and cultural attractions along Alt. 19.

Alternate U.S. 19 has many names as it rambles through Pinellas County — Seminole Boulevard, Missouri Avenue, Myrtle Avenue, North Fort Harrison Avenue, Edgewater Drive, Broadway, Bayshore Boulevard, Palm Harbor Boulevard, Pinellas Avenue. But whatever you call it, county planners want your input to create the Pinellas County Cultural Corridor along the 38-mile roadway.

“Designating Alt. 19 a ‘cultural corridor’ offers an opportunity to spur artistic redevelopment and encourage business in many areas,” said Whit Blanton, executive director of Forward Pinellas, the agency that oversees transportation and land use for county planning.   

“Forward Pinellas and Creative Pinellas are joining efforts, seeking to redevelop the corridor,” said Blanton. “Allowing increased access through better transportation and creating interesting destination opportunities encourages both business and tourism, and Creative Pinellas (the county’s arts council)  was a natural choice to access the artistic community.”

Through their joint effort they hope to engage artists, cultural experts, and residents in a conversation promoting Alt. U.S. 19 as a public art and cultural asset corridor.

So, what’s a cultural corridor? 

“A cultural corridor is a geographic area that features and connects multiple arts and cultural attractions, creating a magnet for entertainment, tourism and urban revitalization,” according to the Forward Pinellas website. It’s an idea gaining popularity, and many areas are developing corridors as innovative ways to incorporate a variety of cultural and artistic endeavors that exist within local commodities.

Alt. 19 really fits the geographic description of a “Cultural Corridor,” as its 38-mile path spans the county from its beginnings as Tyrone Boulevard in St. Petersburg northward to Holiday in Pasco County.

“The county wants to create a vision to define the corridor as an arts destination for not just Pinellas County, but also the state of Florida, and beyond,” said Blanton.

The highway, in its present form, is also historic. It was renamed in 1951 when U.S. 19 was rerouted through the east side of Pinellas County, allowing it to connect to the rest of the peninsula and south to the Sunshine Skyway, which opened in September, 1954. Before the new bridge, traveling to Sarasota from Pinellas County required taking the Bee Line Ferry or driving around the eastern edge of Tampa Bay.

Called Alternate 19, it served the western communities and the beaches, stringing together smaller roads. In those days, much of north Pinellas County was rural, acres and acres of orange groves, so thick the citrus aroma was unmistakable during spring’s abundant blossoms. Citrus packing and processing plants were plentiful, and the railroads were busy shipping bushels of citrus around the nation. Some growers had beehives, and a trip up Alt. 19 usually meant buying some delicious natural orange blossom honey.   

 But like the rest of Florida, the advent of air conditioning made the area livable for many former snowbirds, now ready to buy a house. A few years of bad freezes and citrus woes left many grove owners with empty pockets and ready to sell.

Over the years, groves transformed into residential suburbs, and Alt. 19 became a hodgepodge of strip malls and subdivisions. But it still connects the western county communities of Largo, Seminole, Clearwater, Palm Harbor, Crystal Beach, Dunedin and Tarpon Springs.

 Blanton also sees great opportunities for cohesive area redevelopment and even the future possibility of arts housing. Forward Pinellas is a public independent agency, he explained, working with planners from the different cities and communities to define their own needs and budgets.

“We’re interested in public art as a component,” Blanton said. “We recently reached out to Robert Stackhouse and Carol Mickett (two St. Petersburg sculptors renowned for their public creations nationwide), and they’re interested in getting involved.”  

Hilary Lehman, communications manager at Forward Pinellas, said there were four meetings for public comment, so now it’s time to digest and tweak the proposals and reconvene in October or November.

“There are already a number of cultural destinations in place,” Blanton said “The Leepa-Rattner Museum, Creative Pinellas and Heritage Village, the St. Petersburg College Clearwater campus and the Largo Library, as well as many parks, theaters and galleries’

“We’d like to see it become a North County version of Central Avenue,” said Blanton. “There’s a lot of stuff already in St. Pete, but North County needs a little love.” 

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