St. Pete: Florida’s Great Encore Artist City

In 2004, I was weary of the winters and high cost of living up north.

My wife Amy Blake and I had been living and working in the Philadelphia metro area for 21 years and spending some of our summers in Portland, Maine. Three years before, I had a surprise life-saving operation. Our daughter was a freshman at Northwestern University. We were empty-nesters with a successful graphic design business and a well-established place in the community.

But we were ready and open for something new and different.

Having spent every winter holiday in Florida between the ages of 1 and 22 with grandparents, I had many happy memories of the Sunshine State. For me, it was always an inspiring place of palm trees, azure sky and sea, and place of personal reinvention. Everyone was from somewhere else.

Unfortunately, Florida also suffered from an image as a land of aimless retirees, sprawl and condo-ized mediocrity — as so hilariously captured on “Seinfeld”. But things have really changed in the last 20 years.

Florida now has over 19 million inhabitants. This makes it the third largest state. It is also one of the most diverse, with well over 20 different ethnic groups and large LGBT enclaves. Surprisingly, much of the state is on the younger side because of the large influx of immigrant families from the Caribbean, Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe, and elsewhere.

The median age of Florida is about 39 and downtown St. Petersburg is about 44.

What actually brought us down to St. Pete in 2004 was the birth of a baby girl to my beloved cousins. They live in one of the largest historic craftsmen-style house neighborhoods in the country. The readily accessible seven miles of gorgeous public access waterfront just blew us away. And there were wonderful museums, several good restaurants, and a small but lively downtown.

Amy and I agreed that this place is going to be discovered and we were going to be priced out by the monied minions of Manhattan and other snowbelt cities. So we bought a condo within 48 hours.

It was our intention to spend three to four months in St. Pete annually to avoid the snow, ice, and gloom of Philly and Portland. Eleven years later, we are spending over eight months a year in the Sunshine City. We sold our Portland condo and rustic Maine island studio. Presently, we have a little apartment in Swarthmore, Penn., to maintain business and personal connections to the City of Brotherly Love.

My St. Pete painting studio is in the 1926 Flori De Leon Co-op. Both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig had penthouses there during spring training. It is about a two-minute walk from our condo — a sensible and carbon-neutral commute!

Below are links to relevant websites and articles for Encore Creatives:

The Arts Mecca (Key art links)

Welcome to St. Petersburg (City of St. Pete’s official website)

Moving to St. Petersburg: A Haven for Artists (Although written in 2012, it still has helpful insights)

Fort De Soto Park (has one of America’s great beaches)

Florida Symphony at the Mahaffey Theater (Astounding performances by waterfront and Dali Museum)

The Studio @ 620 (St. Pete’s premier community arts space and great place to meet other creatives)

Creative Loafing Alternative Newspaper (strong focus on Tampa Bay’s art and restaurant scene)

Chihuly Collections (RISD’s own master glass artist featured in gorgeous public gallery space)

Best neighborhood and buildings for older artists (work, live, show zoning for artists)

Kenwood (my favorite emerging creative neighborhood)

Old NorthEast (pricey but beautiful and close to downtown)

Old Southeast (amazing beach and many creatives)

Factoids:

The director of the Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg was formerly director of Education at the MET; the director of the Dali Museum has a doctorate in Art History from Brown.

There was approximately 1 billion dollars of new downtown construction before the 2008 financial collapse; there is currently about 1 billion dollars of new downtown construction.

The largest international ocean film festival, BLUE, has relocated to St. Pete.

Three of St Pete’s City Council members are gay; the city is very gay-friendly.

Seniors can take college courses for free at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg; there is also the innovative ASPECT program at Eckerd College.

Florida has no state income tax, and has favorable estate inheritance laws.

St. Pete has relatively low property taxes.

Nice & easy pace of life — compared to up North.

Downsides:

Much of the electorate thinks that mass transit is unnecessary. Although the city of St. Pete itself has a decent bus system, there is terrible traffic between St. Pete, the airport and Tampa.

The summers are very hot, very humid, very long — although not that much hotter than NYC, Philly, or DC.

Because of the high cost of hurricane insurance, real estate is somewhat more expensive than you might think — but still cheaper than in big city Mid-Atlantic and New England.

Considerable homeless population during the winter months. The city of St. Pete is doing its best to manage this national problem with minimal federal and state support.

The Tampa Bay is an emerging creative economy not an established one. If you have “portable clients”, keep them. It is much easier to make a creative dollar up north than in the Sunshine City metro area.

Personal creative links:
http://www.blurb.com/books/520736-st-pete-suite-3rd-edition
http://www.creativeshare.com/exhibits/sun-cosmos.php
http://www.creativeshare.com/video/eclectic/creative-st-pete.php


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