Did big art idea work?
Murals the city had painted 12 years ago along 20th Street endure a questionable existence.
By ROBBYN MITCHELL
Published August 13, 2006
ST. PETERSBURG -- In 1994, the city's Department of Economic Development commissioned seven murals on 20th Street S between First and Fifth avenues to retain the local businesses and beautify the neighborhood.
James Batton, owner of Red's Auto Body was only an employee there when his father leased the outside wall of the business to the city for the mural project.
"Didn't help the business none," Batton said. "My father wanted an Everglades scene because that is what he was into."
But Batton said he is waiting for business to slow down so he can remove the city's beautification project.
"We were told that the lease was for five years and the artist would maintain it that long but after that we could take it down if we wanted," Batton said. "Our artist never came back."
The Department of Economic Development claims no responsibility for the 12-year-old murals it commissioned for the five-block stretch.
The business owners who originally leased their walls to the city said that while they are pleased with the artwork, it had nothing to do with why they remained in the area.
"We'd been here since 1975," Batton said. "There was no chance that we were moving."
Because 20th Street S is not a main north-south thoroughfare, most traffic travels through, looking for a specific business.
"The mural on our wall is great because it has helped people find us right off the highway," said Seldon Whispell, owner of Whispell's Foreign Auto Services.
The more than 20-foot mural of the '98 and '99 Toyota race cars has served primarily as a marker for business, but isn't a draw.
Whispell's wife, Viola, said that their business operates mostly on word of mouth, but that hasn't stopped the couple from enjoying the painting.
"The artist, Ron Berman, came by a couple of years ago and said he'd like to touch it up but I don't know if the city will pay for that," Whispell said.
Dave Goodwin, director of economic development and original commissioner of the $100,000 project said the city's lease on the walls is up and they are not likely to touch them up anytime soon.
"The owners can paint over them if they want but for the most part they still look pretty good," Goodwin said.
At least one business, though, isn't planning to part ways with its very personalized mural.
Karen Mitchell's painting of children looking through the knotholes of a fence into a baseball park has personal touches that manager Terry Touchton can relate to.
"On the side she put a self portrait of her sitting in a chair ... and on the other side the little dachshund is my dog," Touchton said.
"If you look all the way down this street, you can see that the murals cover a lot of the ugliness of the stark buildings. I think they should do it again."
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20th Street South Mural Project
The original seven murals commissioned by the city of St. Petersburg Department of Economic Development are:
Play At The Plate by Karen Mitchell at Harold's Body Shop, 1962 First Ave. S.
A Gulf Gallery by Jim Iuni at Second Ave. S and 20th Street.
Jubilation by Rose Bilal at Geosonics, 2016 Second Ave. S.
Florida Everglades Scene by Jimmy Bryant at Red's Auto and Equipment Repair, 1975 Third Ave. S.
Race In St. Petersburg by Ron Berman at Whispell's Foreign Cars Inc., 2025 Third Ave. S.
Field Of Dreams/lightning Storm by Tom Stovall at 301 20th St.
Transcending Birds In Flight - One and Two by Elizabeth Indianos at Food Wholesalers Inc., 1960 Fifth Ave. S. and 2031 Fifth Ave. S.
JUBILATION is the only one that no longer exists.