3 Arts Districts That Are Transforming Downtowns

Railroad Square Art Park – Tallahassee

Located in a previously developed lumberyard and industrial complex minutes away from the state Capitol is Tallahassee’s Railroad Square Art Park.  The 10-acre area, described as a creative haven and the arts and cultural district of the city, is filled with more than 75 artist studios, galleries, shops and local business – such as a coffee shop, rock climbing gym, brewery, vintage arcade, non-profit theater company, thrift store and the city’s only café built out of a real train caboose.

The location of this district between the city’s downtown business center and two major universities makes it convenient and appealing to a wide variety of city residents who go to the district for shopping, dining, art curations and socialization.  The park is situated between railroad tracks and the Capital Cascades Trail creating an enclave of brightly colored repurposed warehouse buildings.

Additionally, the art park provides outdoor amenities that includes a sculpture garden, food truck area, beer garden, drum circle area and outdoor seating for the park’s café and coffee shops.  The art park not only provides a fun and unique place for visitors, it also provides a place for local artists, entrepreneurs and small businesses to flourish.   And the success of this district can be seen in its best known event – The First Friday Gallery Hop – which draws thousands of visitors for night of entertainment, food and culture.  Want to know or see more?

Check out their website at http://www.railroadsquare.com/.

ArtWalk – Coral Springs

The ArtWalk in Coral Springs provides a downtown space where none previously existed.  Developed by the City of Coral Springs and its Community Redevelopment Agency, the 2-acre urban oasis was transformed from a road and canal rights-of-ways into a new urban plaza that allowed Coral Springs to create a vibrant and unique downtown park used for city events.

Central to the space are public art pieces along the plaza.  Currently, the site is the permanent location of three art pieces with two interactive pieces currently being fabricated.  The main public art piece is Beyond by Zachary Knudson, a 13-foot-tall infinity glass sculpture with LED lighting.  Other pieces include HD (Humpty Dumpty) by Kimberly Fiebiger and Union One by Kevin Barrett.  Temporary art pieces will be installed bi-yearly.

With its large seating walls, locations for six large-scale public art pieces and plenty of space for vendors and events, the ArtWalk and the newly designed NW 31st Court has provided the framework for the new Downtown Coral Springs.  This newly created space has not only served as a location for community events – such as live art events, a farmers’ market, live music events and family festivals – but it has also provided a much needed pedestrian connection from the City’s new Municipal Complex and Downtown Pathway.

ArtWalk serves the city’s premier place for public art.  This art-centric downtown space has fulfilled the city’s objectives of creating a sense of place, promoting complete street design, providing an urban open space for events, enticing future redevelopment for surrounding properties and improving the appearance and safety of the area with design, lighting and landscaping.  Learn more here.

The Warehouse Arts Building

Warehouse Arts District – St. Pete

By Claudia Ray & Brian Caper

St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District is evolving from older manufacturing and warehouse facilities into an area rich with historic and cultural significance. The area now serves as a key gathering place for artists, galleries, distilleries, and breweries, even as some light industrial businesses remain.

Surrounded by traditional neighborhoods and bisected by the 38-mile Pinellas Trail, the District contains several buildings which, because of their history and character, are strong assets to the neighborhood. Among these, the Manhattan Casino, the Morean Center for Clay, and the ArtsXchange are of particular significance.

The Manhattan Casino

Built in 1925, the Manhattan Casino is significant for its contribution to entertainment and the culture in the African American community for more than forty years.  Owned by the City, it remains a landmark for the District and a gateway to Deuces Live Main Street.  The Morean Center for Clay is a part of the Historic Train Station, a large masonry structure with a rich vernacular architecture and now a City landmark. The center is among the largest working potteries in the Southeast with a goal of promoting contemporary and historic ceramics. The ArtsXchange is a 50,000-square foot warehouse complex that will be renovated into affordable working studios, galleries, classrooms, a coffee shop and educational microbrewery and restaurant. The first phase of the building opened in October 2017, which consists of 28 sustainable, affordable art studios and a gallery.  The project exists through the efforts of the Warehouse Arts District Association (WADA), a non-profit founded by a group of community artists in 2011.

One of the action plan graphics.

Responding to neighborhood perspectives about the past, present and future the planning team identified more than 30 physical projects and programs to be implemented over time.  These initiatives include basic sidewalk improvements, road diets and streetscape plans, the reclaiming of right-of-way and two new parks. The plan emphasizes the Pinellas Trail as a green spine linking district destinations, experiences, and buildings to the recreational pathway.

For more information on the plan visit the project website.


Claudia Ray is an urban designer for GAI’s Community Solutions Group. Brian Caper is an economic development analyst for the City of St. Petersburg.


An artistic fence in the district residential area.

Gallery showplace for local artisans.

Zen Glass Studio. All images courtesy of Claudia Ray.