By Guest Contributor Mary Jane Park
St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District Association started with several leaps of faith. Artists who needed reasonably priced work space saw promise in abandoned warehouses and began to reclaim industrial buildings that once housed tomato and seafood packing plants, a large commercial laundry and a deserted railway station.
In 2012, WADA organized as a nonprofit entity to attract artists, create jobs, interact with the community and offer educational programming. The district itself, which runs from First Avenue N to 10th Avenue S and from 16th Street to 31st Street, has become a creative corridor that includes roughly 200 artists who create paintings, sculpture, music and furniture. Still others shape works of glass, clay, wood, sand, paper and metal. The WADA calls the area “Where Art Is Made.” It encompasses part of the Deuces Live and Grand Central areas and is within an enterprise zone that the city has targeted for economic development.
Public and private funds enabled WADA to purchase nearly 3 acres of land along 22nd Street S between Fifth and Sixth avenues and along the Pinellas Trail. The property, acquired in 2014, is now known as the ArtsXchange. It comprises six warehouse buildings that total more than 50,000 square feet of space.
ArtsXchange Artist Rendering
Current tenants include Dazzio Art, MGA Sculpture and Soft Water Studios. Construction is under way to convert about 11,000 square feet of additional space into nearly 30 studios that are being built on two levels inside the skin of one of the existing warehouses on the property. The studios will be self-supporting. Stabilized rents will pay for maintenance, operating and utility costs. Also included are an incubator area where artists can interact and teach each other and an event space that will offer gallery and gathering opportunities, plus a meeting area for community outreach, programming, children’s education and other events.
The group of artists who have been chosen as the first tenants in the new studios should be able to move in sometime in July.
WADA leaders also are working with the Deuces Live on an action plan that should bring better lighting and signage, safer walking and cycling areas and additional event and work space to the area. At the April 27 hard hat party held to show progress at the ArtsXchange, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman announced that city staff will begin to improve lighting along the Pinellas Trail.
The Warehouse Arts District Association was created because of the increasing desirability of the area, which is home to the popular 3 Daughters Brewing, Brocante Market and many other commercial enterprises. As property values escalate, so do rental rates for studios and galleries, often pushing artists out of the very neighborhoods they have helped to improve.
Future plans are to create larger spaces for metal workers, sculptors, other mixedmedia artists, classrooms, and additional gallery space. WADA leadership envisions even more possibilities: performance space, a foundry, a recording studio, rehearsal areas, perhaps even a restaurant and/or microbrewery.
Ideas emerge daily. During a recent tour of scientists from the University of South Florida, one suggested that new plantings along the trail could develop as edible gardens that would produce food available to anyone. Also being discussed are an increasing number of educational efforts, community marketplaces and festivals in the area.