Central Avenue: Avenue of Arts

It is not the official designation of the avenue that cuts the St. Petersburg in half from Tampa Bay to the Gulf of Mexico, but, says consultant Jeff Danner, former St. Petersburg councilman and PSTA board member, it will be something like that when the Central Avenue Art in Transit Project comes into effect.

Central Avenue will transform over the course of the next 5 to 10 years, according to Danner. The project he began promoting around 2010 will collaborate with the recently adopted Central Avenue Revitalization Plan to install transit shelters decorated with illuminated sculpture, set street markers, enhance the landscape for shade and straighten the sloping and cracked sidewalks, Danner says.

Each of the seven business districts (Core, Central Arts, Edge, Grand Central, Central Plaza, Professional and West Central) on the avenue will be distinguished by color, and each transit station will have a designated number according to the intersection on which it stands, says Danner.

Additionally, a lit glass-block sculpture exclusive to the district will be installed at each station. “We didn’t want seashell-shaped bus shelters,” says Danner. “We wanted something unique, not Home Depot.”

So, the city called for bids in May 2013 and selected local multimedia artists Carol Mickett and Robert Stackhouse from the Mickett/Stackhouse Studio and Thaddeus Root to develop the design for the shelters and glass sculptures.

Bus shelters will all be unique based on the available space, ridership and the district’s needs, Danner says. Some may be fit for several riders and have a bench and a bike rack. Others may need additional infrastructure and landscape.

According to Danner, the transit stations will also be technologically enhanced. Rather than installing bulky information kiosks like you see downtown, Danner says they are “looking at flat screens or projection screens that would have maps and could be interactive.” A real-time bus schedule will also be accessible, he says, as well as promotions of the district’s businesses.

“It’s a really good opportunity for marketing,” says Danner. It is anticipated that developers and businesses along the route, as well as other city districts, will contribute to the project.

The project has a budget of $2.3 million provided by a PSTA contribution ($300,000) and by federal and county grants ($1 million each). These grants were received “for pedestrian enhancement of the transit system,” says Danner, at the time the city was planning to implement the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) that would run along 1st Avenue North and 1st Avenue South.

The BRT is not yet implemented, but it remains among the city’s goals, according to Danner. Currently, bus routes cover portions of Central while a trolley runs through the corridor until midnight.

The Central Avenue Council works to solve problems common along the route, making improvements when budget is available as part of the Revitalization Plan. “Everything we do from now on,” says Danner, “we’ll have to check and make sure the things don’t conflict with the [Arts in Transit] plan.”

Among the goals of the Council, Danner names finding a trademark for the avenue that is the “spine” that connects not only the downtown and the beaches, but also the Deuces, Kenwood, the Warehouse Arts District, etc. and all the surrounding neighborhoods.

Central Avenue is nine miles long, so the reconstruction and enhancement is “a long-term commitment,” says Danner. The city is currently at phase one – determining the design for the transit shelters and selecting contractors.

The installation is planned to start at the east and west ends of Central Avenue, with portals where all seven glass sculptures will lead to the route and direct visitors to take buses and trolleys to discover and enjoy the seven districts of arts and business.

“If you go to other cities and you go from the hotel to the tourist destination and you want local coffee, a burger shop, or an antique gallery, you have to ask where it is to try to find it,” says Danner, “but here you just have to look out of the bus/trolley window along Central Avenue. And it’ll all be illuminated – unified, but unique.”

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