Around the State- Southwest/ Tampa Bay- Oct. 2001
A Sarasota businessman has turned an undesirable area into a viable arts colony -- and created a trend.
By Amy Welch
In the late '80s, N.J. Olivieri, president of Horizon Mortgage Corp. in Sarasota, started buying houses in a blighted area known as Towles Court, just a few blocks from downtown. He envisioned redeveloping the area into a Colonial-style village.
By the early '90s, however, local artists had persuaded him to build an artist colony instead, a place where artists would live, work and sell from their homes. "We decided on an area of artists because we thought they would make it into a viable community," Olivieri says.
By 1995, Olivieri had accumulated about 30 houses. Kathleen Carrillo, a painter, was one of the first artists to move there. She persuaded Olivieri to paint the houses bright colors -- purple, green, yellow and orange. New tin roofs tie them together. Olivieri, who paid $20,000 to $50,000 for the houses, sold them to artists for between $90,000 and $110,000, sometimes taking art as a down payment from artists who could not raise enough cash.
The investment in Towles Court paid off. Not only is it now home to about 40 artists and 30 galleries, a restaurant, art center, rented studios and a yoga center, but most of the homes would sell for between $275,000 and $375,000.
Six new houses have sprung up next to the colony since the redevelopment.
Impressed with the transformation of Towles Court -- which the artists say came with little help from the city -- Bradenton is making similar efforts to create a Village of the Arts in an 18-block area that once was home to crack houses and prostitution.
The city is offering Bradenton artists matching grants from $1,000 to $5,000 to refurbish houses and landscapes. About 25 artists have bought homes in the area for about $50,000 each.
The city has reconstructed sidewalks, installed antique street lights, redesigned the sewer system, added street signs and is planning to add a trolley stop, says Annie Roussini, executive director of the Artists Guild of Manatee. Crime has already dropped by 98%, she says.
For the artists, it's a dream come true. "I always had a gallery separate from my home and would have to clear at least $1,500 (a month) just to make a profit," Carrillo says. "Now, I'm living, working and selling my art without the overhead."
In the News
Bonita Springs -- Home builder WCI Communities Inc. plans to go public. The asking price, number of shares to be offered and timing of the IPO have not yet been determined, the company says.
Clearwater -- Acting City Manager Bill Horne now has the job permanently. For the past year, Horne has been mending fences since the resignation of his predecessor, Mike Roberto. Horne is restructuring City Hall and has named Ralph Stone, the city's planning director, assistant city manager for economic and community development, a new position.
Lakeland -- Advance Auto Parts of Roanoke, Va., purchased Discount Auto Parts Inc. (NYSE-DAP) for nearly $595 million. Privately held Advance has filed with the SEC to become a publicly traded company like Discount.
Sarasota -- Voters will decide whether the city will adopt a strong mayor form of government in a special election in March. If the proposal passes, the city will hold a mayoral election in 2003. Currently, the five-member city commission elects its mayor and vice mayor from among commission members. In an unrelated development, Mayor Albert F. Hogle resigned to become Bradenton's police chief. The Sarasota City Commission has until November to elect a new mayor.
In the wake of its split with New College, USF's Sarasota/Manatee campus is adding new courses this fall, bringing the total number of degree offerings on the campus to 25. Two of the programs are in social work and teaching. The school is also partnering with Manatee Community College to aid students who want to earn an associate degree at the community college and then a bachelor's from USF.
St. Petersburg -- The Don CeSar Beach Resort is joining a long list of resorts in southwest Florida looking to Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands for workers. The Don recently recruited 45 Jamaicans to fill housekeeping, kitchen and steward positions.
City Council is considering redeveloping about 100 waterfront acres downtown. The tract is home to the Bayfront Center arts complex, Albert Whitted Airport, a sewage treatment plant and the Florida Power Park baseball stadium. The city will start its review -- likely to last about a year -- by looking into new uses for the Bayfront Center. Under one scenario, the University of South Florida would use the facility as a conference center.
JMC Development Corp. is planning to build a 92-room, four-story Hampton Inn & Suites in downtown St. Petersburg. The Mediterranean-style hotel, which will house retail space on the ground floor, will be on the south side of First Avenue North.
Tampa -- A ruling by the Justice Department is likely to result in layoffs at Tampa-based Intermedia Communications. Justice officials ruled that WorldCom will not have to sell the phone operations of Intermedia as a condition for buying the company.
Hispanic magazine ranks Tampa the top city in the state for Hispanics. The magazine, focusing on cities where Hispanics make up at least 10% of the population, based its decision on cultural events, Hispanic representation in government and the vitality of the workforce.
The Tampa Bay Partnership is seeking companies to help foot the bill for a national advertising campaign to draw high-tech talent to the region. The partnership is working with the Bernard Hodes Group, a Tampa-based marketing firm, to develop print advertisements for high-tech trade publications beginning in January.
Walter Industries is getting into the lending business -- in a small way. It's new subsidiary, Walter Mortgage Co., will lend money to home buyers to purchase land on which Walter will build the homes. The move comes as Walter closes 13 sales offices, mostly in Ohio and Indiana. Last year, the company built more than 4,200 homes at an average price of $58,000.
Tampa companies won 31 of the 50 coveted spots on Deloitte & Touche's Technology Fast 50 list. The annual ranking of the fastest-growing high-tech companies in the 21-county Florida High Tech Corridor looks at revenue growth over a five-year period.
Tampa International Airport will feel some of the brunt of the failed merger between US Airways and United Airlines. In a cost-cutting move, US Airways, the airport's largest carrier, is reducing the number of flights from Tampa to its hubs in Charlotte, N.C., Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Also affected: Metrojet, the airline's low-cost carrier, which flies to New York, Boston, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.