Warehouse Arts Enclave reaches major milestone with support of mayor, City Council and Pruitt Foundation

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and St. Pete city council voted today to approve $75,000 for the Warehouse Arts District Enclave, bringing the total raised so far for the project to $350,000. The Enclave promises to be a catalyst for reshaping an unloved part of St. Pete into a hotspot for arts activity.

Located at 5th Avenue and 22nd Street South ("the Deuces”) and edged by the Pinellas Trail, the Enclave will transform 50,000 square feet of grimy, abandoned structures into working studio space for artists to work, teach and sell.

The transformation has already begun. Professional sculptor Mark Aeling, with commissions from across America, chose to house his studio here. As president of the Warehouse Arts District Association (WADA), he has long hoped to purchase the property, formerly the home of Soft Water Laundry and Ace Recycling, for artists and establish it as a nonprofit.

“Traditionally, artists move into a derelict area, activate it with the excitement of their creative efforts and are priced out. Examples of this abound from Soho in NYC to Ybor City in Tampa and Salt Creek in St. Pete. By renting their studio spaces from a nonprofit, the artists will enjoy stability,” explained Mark.

In order to raise the $350,000 for Phase 1 — which covered acquisition of the property and initial renovations — WADA needed some "angel donors," said Aeling. And sure enough, angels were found.

in addition to 100 individual and corporate donations, the J. Crayton Pruitt Foundation of St. Petersburg has contributed $200,000. Pruitt Foundation spokesperson and family member Natalie Pruitt Judge explained that the family's support of the project reflected the ongoing dedication to the arts of their mother, Frances McSwain Pruitt.  "She expressed her love for the arts and education in our community through her early work as a docent at the Museum of Fine Arts, her support of the children’s theater program at American Stage Theater, and as a member of the St. Petersburg Arts Commission," said Judge in a statement. The property’s current owner shares the vision of this artist-owned economic development engine and offered attractive terms to the buyers. 

Larry Biddle is leading the fundraising effort for the Enclave, and he has seen proof of St. Pete’s willingness to step up for the arts. (Biddle is the husband of David Warner, CL’s editor.) He has taken potential donors around the property to visit the working studios of Mark Aeling, Carrie Jadus, Wendy Durand and Katee Tully, formerly director of the Morean Arts Center, and says there is a waiting list of 106 artists eager to move into studios that will be created in the Enclave. "Their rents will create the revenue stream to pay the mortgage,” says Biddle.

Mayor Rick Kriseman celebrated the idea of the Enclave in his rallying speech for the arts earlier this year, pledging $50,000 from the City toward the downpayment and citing the positive economic gains from this initiative. Today's vote by City Council to grant the project an additional $25,00 affirms the city's strong support.

The fortuitous location — not only does it adjoin the Pinellas Trail, it's sited between Duncan McClellan Glass and the Morean Center for Clay — is key to its potential. The City of St. Pete has already invested heavily in 22nd Street, a key north-south route which connects Central Avenue to a street with a long tradition as the African-American community's Main Street.

Widening the road to incorporate bike lanes, landscaping, sidewalks improvements and repaving have all been accomplished with public funds, but now private sources are beginning to invest here. 

Sylvia’s Restaurant, located in the Manhattan Casino; St. Pete College’s Midtown campus, which will open in early 2015; the 3 Daughters microbrewery;  the new Chief's Creole Cafe; and the popular Brocante Vintage Market all demonstrate the variety of fresh public and private investment in the area, totaling over $200 million along “The Deuces."

In addition to the taxes which will be generated from this project and the improvements to the buildings, neighborhood children will learn how artists work. Educational activities are built into the long-range plan, meaning that kids could ride their bikes to cultural activities just up the street , expanding their world. The warehouse doors could literally roll up to reveal working artists to passersby. What a novel destination along the Pinellas Trail!

The Enclave will be open to writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, musicians and other artists who will benefit from the conversations and inspiration of working in close proximity to each other. The long-term vision for the property includes a recording studio, a forge and a microbrewery on the premises.

Ultimately, there will be a cafe and artists’ stalls circling a central plaza to attract visitors and offer an experience unique in Florida....riding a bike to a working artists' area, stopping for a drink or bite, and shopping for locally made work. Sounds like cultural catnip to me!

Go to WarehouseArtsEnclave.org for more info

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