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Competition draws in ideas for art center

Oldsmar received 54 entries from six state universities for designs ranging from ritzy to historic.

By ED QUIOCO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 25, 2002

OLDSMAR -- What started as a small-town effort to get designs for a new arts center has evolved into a statewide architectural competition involving six Florida universities.

Prize money and awards are at stake, but so are "major bragging rights," said Michael Shiff, chairman of the Florida Board of Architecture and Interior Design.

"It's the Super Bowl for architectural schools in Florida," said Shiff, who helped organize the competition. "This is very serious. It was a whole semester's work."

The Oldsmar Cultural Arts Foundation sought and received 54 entries from the University of Florida, University of South Florida, University of Miami, Florida A&M University, Florida Atlantic University and Florida International University. The entries were put on display at Oldsmar City Hall this week.

"There are some magnificent designs here, just magnificent," Jan Sapiega, the competition's chairwoman.

A panel of judges chose the winners this past weekend , and an awards ceremony will be at 6:30 p.m. today at the Civic Club building, 402 St. Petersburg Drive. Some of the entries also will be displayed February during an architectural conference in Fort Lauderdale for colleges in the Southeast.

The foundation hopes to build a 22,000-square-foot arts center on the property where the Civic Club building is located. The students are not licensed architects, so the foundation will have to hire an architect to do the actual design. That plan, however, could include some student ideas.

"The purpose of this was to generate ideas," said Sapiega, who is on the foundation's executive board.

The contest did just that.

Some proposals look more like the Guggenheim Museum than an arts center for a small town. Some make splashy statements, calling for ritzy courtyards, plazas lighted by large spotlights, tree-lined lobbies and grand orchestra pits.

One entry, titled Angiogenesis: The Process of New Blood Vessel Formation, described how the arts center could rejuvenate the city.

"Oldsmar needs a generator -- a landmark building, from which "new blood' will flow through the semicircular grid of the city, as if the streets themselves were arteries being reinvigorated from such a building," according to the entry.

Many students traveled to Oldsmar to get a feel for the city before creating their designs, Sapiega said. Some suggested using the city's history and the vision of Oldsmar's founder, carmaker R.E. Olds, as a basis for the center's design.

The students were given a checklist of features that had to be included in their designs, things such as a stage for Broadway-type productions, an auditorium seating 300 to 350, offices, a conference center seating 250 to 300 and an exhibition/museum room.

What was not on the checklist was a price. That was so there would be more emphasis on creativity, Sapiega said.

"Some of them could easily be a $5-million building," she said.

Awards and prizes ranging from $100 to $3,000 will be given to the top finishers of three categories: Best overall design, best hand-drawn entry and best digital presentation. Entries also will be recognized for honorable mention, the mayor's choice and the people's choice awards.

Although many of the entries for the Oldsmar competition are probably unrealistic for the small city, the purpose of the exercise was to create a buzz for the proposed arts center, Sapiega said.

"We certainly aren't short on ideas anymore," Sapiega said.

- Staff writer Julie Church contributed to this report.

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