Five years ago, when the 600 block of Central was opened, there were over ten galleries.. Blue Lucy, then under the dual ownership of Philip Clark and Chad Mize, was there. Five years later, the gallery has announced it will close its doors at the end of December.
In those five years, the number of galleries on the block was decimated, partially due to the economic Depression that began around 2007 and continues to this day. The rest is due to persistent problems with the manager of the 600 block, Gary Burnside.
From an article by Megan Voeller in Creative Loafing, from 2010:
"Anyone familiar with the standard narrative of gentrification --
first the artists move in, then big business comes knocking -- has to
wonder if the Crislip's creative commune vibe will be crashed by the
equivalent of a Starbucks -- or any tenant who can afford to pay top
dollar for the space. "That's not my agenda," says Gaffney, who is quick
to note that he's no philanthropist and doesn't plan to replicate the
Crislip experiment with his other investments. Tenants like Bluelucy
point to five-year leases in support of their faith in the developer's
intentions, though other tenants have signed for much shorter terms.
Burnside is more direct:
"I know the money that [Gaffney has] spent, and I know the rents that
are coming in -- and I can sum it up in a few words: think of it as a
gift to the city," he says."
However, in conversation, Burnside often boasted of how much additional money in rents was being generated as he assiduously raised the rents of all tenants, with one exception. As galleries left, he openly talked about getting rid of the arts tenants and bringing in retail businesses to replace them. I have in my possession a copy of an insulting letter he sent to several of his tenants where he openly said this.
When Blue Lucy's five year lease (which proved a brilliant decision, or his rent would have been raised much sooner) ended, Chad Mize was confronted with a large increase in rent, and like other tenants, he decided to get out, announcing the closing today.
The Blue Lucy announcement:
"BlueLucy will be exiting the The 600 Block of St. Petersburg
at the end of this year. We have had an amazing 5 years at this
wonderful location. We've seen many artists and art lovers come through
our door. We've helped start collections and push an artist or two.
Sometimes a location/space can become too much of the same. After 30
separate exhibits in this one location we are ready for something new.
We will continue to curate art exhibits throughout the year. New spaces
and new ideas await."
Blue Lucy put together a solid series of shows over its five years. Chad Mize is a master at creating pop themes with back stories in the collective imagination and memory.
There are now two artists left in the Crislip Arcade. Turnover in the 600 blk remains high, and there is nervousness among some of the other tenants.
In spite of occasionally butting heads, I want to personally thank Chad Mize for being a major influence on the Saint Petersburg Florida arts scene and for his consistently professional demeanor. I wish him the best in any future endeavors, though I suspect we will be seeing more of him soon.
This sordid episode is repeating itself all over the US (and world) as artists are used to break the (unrentable) blight in properties, saddled with build-outs and then driven out ASAP by their landlords.
Lather, rinse, repeat.