Tag Archives: Museum Month

How St. Petersburg became the cultural center of the west coast of Florida – Part 4

The Product and Who Was Promoting It

As previously mentioned, the product has been a mix of cultural facilities: visual and performing, antiques shops and malls, bookstores, unique neighborhoods, city parks along the waterfront and the events that took place there, along with art galleries and restaurants.

The opening of the then Stouffer Vinoy Resort in 1992, refurbished by Fred Guest for just over $90 million, contributed significantly to the city’s image. Finally, the city had a resort that complemented its museums. This was at a time that the failed retail and entertainment concept known as Bay Plaza was becoming apparent.
It was also in 1992 that a group of people formed a group called Common Ground that promoted downtown St. Petersburg and held monthly street parties along Central Avenue. This group of marketing-oriented professionals also spent social time together and the friendships formed helped speed along the work to get behind marketing downtown St. Petersburg as a cultural destination.  I had mentioned this in more detail in Part 2.

With improving neighborhoods, real estate agents became involved in the process as they marketed homes in the downtown neighborhoods, all within close proximity of the cultural facilities mentioned before.

In 1996 a small group of people, coordinated by the Downtown Partnership with Marty Normile and Eric Carlson, formed to discuss downtown transportation. After many meetings, the City of St. Petersburg, after great involvement by Anita Treiser, agreed to donate to a new non-profit group one of the former trolleys that ran in operation at The Pier. The group included the museums, two hotels, the downtown merchants association and the Pier.  Here is the first brochure and timetable for the Looper – downtown St. Petersburg’s trolley.

FAM 017

A route was developed and each of the stakeholders made a contribution to the trolley. Plans were made to sell advertising. Professionals who had jobs to promote their own facilities did all this. I remember one hot day climbing over seats at Carlisle Ford with David Blackman and Mary Lee Hanley measuring spaces that could be used to sell advertising to help support the trolley, which we named The Looper.

wayne terri david

Wayne Atherholt of the Dali Museum, Terri Garnhart of the Museum of History and David Blackman of Great Explorations all cooperated regularly in jointly promoting the museums. This picture is circa 1993.

We managed to contract with a gambling ship which operated shuttle buses to handle the daily driving and maintenance. Unfortunately on the first day of operation the Looper had major engine problems because the oil was low. Our first major setback had just occurred. Undaunted we continued with the assistance of the city and the stakeholders and today the Looper is still in operation connecting the major cultural facilities, lodging establishments, entertainment complexes, antiques malls and all the downtown galleries, restaurants and retail shops. Of course, office workers and tourists became the target audience for using the system.

An early article on the Looper trolley appeared in the St. Petersburg Times.

An early article on the Looper trolley appeared in the St. Petersburg Times.

At about this time the Welcome Guide Map and its owners, Jim Wray and Chuck Wray, got involved as a commercial operation to promote St. Petersburg with a map specifically aimed at the downtown to help position the area as a cultural destination. Florida Suncoast Tourism Promotions, under the leadership of Drake Decker, also helped in many ways by distributing cooperative materials for the cultural attractions such as Museum Month.  I also recall Darlene Kole putting together a coop ad for us in SEE Magazine.

A VIP card included admission to four downtown museums and was sold through the Vinoy and AAA.  An ad that appeared in SEE Magazine promoting the museums.  An insert into key zip codes through Val-Pak promoted four downtown museums.  And finally, a colorful poster was produced and made available to area hotels and businesses to promote the museums of St. Petersburg.

A VIP card included admission to four downtown museums and was sold through the Vinoy and AAA. An ad that appeared in SEE Magazine promoting the museums. An insert into key zip codes through Val-Pak promoted four downtown museums. And finally, a colorful poster was produced and made available to area hotels and businesses to promote the museums of St. Petersburg.

Cooperative Marketing of the Product

Much of the cooperative marketing has been mentioned in the prior pages; however, it cannot go unsaid that these efforts included many low-cost techniques: maps, press releases, joint efforts, group efforts, events, neighborhood parties, happy hours, brochures, posters, and a great spirit among those involved helped make the hard work a lot of pleasure.

Mayor David Fischer held visioning sessions in the mid 1990s that further solidified what the marketing people already knew; downtown St. Petersburg indeed was the center for the arts in the Tampa Bay area. It wasn’t until the travel editor Gerry Volgenau from The Detroit Free Press visited that we finally got someone who could see our vision and write about it.

The fact was, our common vision had become a reality. At the time the article was published, it featured the headline “Florida’s Culture Coast” (reprinted on page 29) with a dateline of St. Petersburg. It was finally recognized that St. Petersburg had become the arts center of the West Coast of Florida. This was the first time, in 1996, that we finally got some major coverage of what we had been working so hard to achieve — recognition that the arts and culture were transforming the city, contributing to its economic success, and making downtown St. Petersburg a lively and exciting place.

The story that finally broke for downtown St. Petersburg being recognized as the cultural center of the west coast of Florida.

The story that finally broke for downtown St. Petersburg being recognized as the cultural center of the west coast of Florida.

Museum Month continued despite storms and even an oil spill that sent visitors packing away. The First Night organization helped start the event in St. Petersburg under the leadership of Pat Mason and Jim Durning.  This was another event that took many of the arts organizations under an umbrella and packaged them to show a critical mass of arts and culture.  It most recently celebrated its 20th anniversary in St. Petersburg.

Another major turning point for the city took place during the run of the Titanic exhibition, which drew over 830,000 visitors to downtown St. Petersburg.  The brochure promoting the exhibition also included wording on the other cultural attractions of downtown and briefly went under the branding of the QuARTer.   A group of developers were visiting the city to consider a large entertainment complex near the museum on vacant land used to park school and tour buses. A line extended outside the museum building as people waited to buy tickets for the first available tour – and it was at night.

The Florida International Museum received coverage all over the world for its record-breaking Titanic exhibition that spanned 27,000 square feet and 830,000 visitors in six months.  All group tour operators, wholesalers and travel media received this piece on the destination that focused on downtown St. Petersburg's arts and cultural appeal.

The Florida International Museum received coverage all over the world for its record-breaking Titanic exhibition that spanned 27,000 square feet and 830,000 visitors in six months. All group tour operators, wholesalers and travel media received this piece on the destination that focused on downtown St. Petersburg’s arts and cultural appeal.

The hardest selling point for the developers was whether anyone was going to go downtown St. Petersburg to a movie or restaurant at night. They took one look at the line around the Florida International Museum and the rest is now history. Baywalk, an entertainment complex featuring multi-screen cinemas, retails shops, restaurants and nightclubs continues to be successful — and a cultural institution was primarily responsible for convincing them to give St. Petersburg a try.

Conclusion

Each city and town in Florida, or across the world for that matter, can benefit from some of the lessons that St. Petersburg learned. Many of the people involved in the early days of transforming this city are now scattered around the country.  Each of them were creative and passionate people who were enjoyable to be around and had positive attitudes.  It wasn’t something borne of money or power, changing St. Petersburg was borne from the spirit of so many dedicated individuals whose passion was not profit but challenge.

The critical key, in my opinion, to creating a common goal was to create an atmosphere that was conducive to these creative people to gather, have fun, work hard and work together. Downtown St. Petersburg became such a place with its many features described in this brief overview of how the city became a cultural destination.

A creative culture was born that exists today making St. Petersburg the cultural center of the west coast of Florida now with multiple unique arts districts, including Beach Drive with its concentration of museums, the Central Arts District with its galleries, arts retail, arts education and artist studios, the Grand Central District with multiple arts facilities including commercial arts education facilities and the Warehouse Arts District south of Grand Central that features the largest working pottery in the southeast in an old freight railway station plus single artists studios in old warehouse space.

Today St. Petersburg is without a doubt the cultural center of the west coast of Florida and could very easily be argued to be the cultural center of the state.

How St. Petersburg became the cultural center of the west coast of Florida – Part 3

The Product takes shape

As mentioned earlier, there are the core cultural facilities such as museums that were the original focus of cooperative marketing, but as non-profit galleries and for-profit galleries developed or were recognized for their importance in creating a destination, these were included. The performing arts facilities were also included as were events as witnessed in the Artworks! Festival material.

I remember going to Tampa with David Blackman to look at this float for the Festival of States parade to promote the then-five downtown Museums.  We all participated but I recall the woman from the Museum of History having mole crickets run up and down her hoop skirt during the parade.  It was a lot of effort and collectively we figured it would be more cost-effective to focus on doing other cooperative things.  This was about 1994.

I remember going to Tampa with David Blackman to look at this float for the Festival of States parade to promote the then-five downtown Museums. We all participated but I recall the woman from the Museum of History having mole crickets run up and down her hoop skirt during the parade. It was a lot of effort and collectively we figured it would be more cost-effective to focus on doing other cooperative things. This was about 1994.

The secondary product in the cultural arena was the antiques malls and the bookstores that also contributed to attracting visitors. Some of the tertiary product included the Pier, the area hotels, parks, architecture, restaurants and the like; but we recognized that all of these elements were needed to create a true cultural destination.

The article in the Sarasota newspaper states "St. Petersburg is bragging - again. And with good reason - again."  Museums Month focused on the great destination that could be created by combining forces among the museums to highlight the city as a cultural destination.

The article in the Sarasota newspaper states “St. Petersburg is bragging – again. And with good reason – again.” Museums Month focused on the great destination that could be created by combining forces among the museums to highlight the city as a cultural destination.

Another factor was people. There really needed to be people and pedestrian traffic in a safe environment. Many of the neighborhoods surrounding the downtown area had become magnets for prostitution and drug dealing and included many vacant and boarded up houses and former rooming houses. But this is the subject of another section on neighborhoods that is covered next.

Neighborhoods

Many of downtown St. Petersburg’s neighborhoods had become infested with outdated housing stock, drug dealers and prostitutes along with homeless people and petty crime. This type of environment keeps visitors away. It is also not a place most people interested in cultural life would live. Nonetheless, several groups of citizens started working on improving these neighborhoods that bordered the downtown area early on, notably in the Vinoy Park, Old Southeast and Round Lake neighborhoods.

Frequently these groups were at odds on how to best improve the area, with some wanting higher density, others wanting low density, and both groups with a somewhat antagonistic approach to City Hall in this author’s opinion.

The Round Lake area expanded its scope to include four other in-town neighborhoods which eventually became known as the Uptown Neighborhoods comprised of Round Lake, the southern part of Crescent Lake, Euclid and the St. Anthony’s area.  It was not until David Fischer became mayor at the same time as a change in city charter to strong mayor from city manager form of government happened at the same time that something seriously happened that would have an impact on downtown St. Petersburg for many years to come.

The first new-construction home in the downtown area for many years was built just north of the Round Lake area in what is now broadly known as Uptown.  This picture was taken for the St. Petersburg Times showing National Night Out Against Crime where the two community police officers from the Uptown neighborhoods attended along with others in the neighborhood to celebrate the new home being built at 1022 Eighth Street North.

The first new-construction home in the downtown area for many years was built just north of the Round Lake area in what is now broadly known as Uptown. This picture was taken for the St. Petersburg Times showing National Night Out Against Crime where the two community police officers from the Uptown neighborhoods attended along with others in the neighborhood to celebrate the new home being built at 1022 Eighth Street North.

The day after the elections Dave Fischer called me into his office and Operation Commitment was started, focusing every city effort on the Uptown Neighborhoods in a test that proved successful at cleaning this area up, raising the property values and increasing the tax base for St. Petersburg. It was officially announced in May, 1993.  New construction followed and new commercial activity started to happen in an area that was all but considered a crime haven.  It also provided a safe and upcoming neighborhood for the professionals moving to the area due to the cultural attractions and emerging growth climate of downtown.

Other neighborhoods followed in the coming years but this was the first effort that was truly a citywide effort to clean up a targeted neighborhood. There were no stops pulled with all city departments being active and much work being done in concert with the neighborhood associations. With nicer neighborhoods, the city was able to attract better paying jobs, enhanced cultural facilities and provide better housing for those who were coming into the city to work.

Further contributing to St. Petersburg’s commitment to the neighborhoods was the appointment of a Neighborhood Czar, Mike Dove, and staff. The Council of Neighborhood Associations developed a Neighborhood Leadership Program about the same time that was modeled after the successful Leadership St. Petersburg.

There were many other things that contributed to St. Petersburg’s neighborhood improvements, from the passing of legislation to allow a Nuisance Abatement Board and grants to plant more trees, to the efforts of neighborhood activist and architect Tim Clemmons’ pushing the allowance of sidewalk cafes.

Chamber of Commerce

The Chamber’s involvements included the neighborhoods as Rick Baker, then president of the Chamber, helped coordinate and start this program with the first meeting being in the home of Jon and Hilary Clarke. I attended along with Dave Prior from the Uptown Neighborhoods. This program helped develop leaders for the neighborhoods and continues today.  Rick was also instrumental in showing the efforts of the Uptown Neighborhoods groups work to future governor of Florida Jeb Bush.  I remember a homeless man walking through the park with a twelve-pack of Bush beer.  Jeb made a comment about the beer to him as he passed and said just like the President.  The homeless man said yeah, and he has a brother in Florida who is running for Governor.  This was 1992 long before Jeb was widely known.

The Chamber was also instrumental in assisting with the Artworks! Festival previously mentioned. The president, Paul Getting, provided the office space and infrastructure to allow the chamber to become the umbrella organization for the festival and it was all done very inexpensively.  The St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce recognizes importance of culture in a 1995 publication that can be viewed by clicking the link.

In addition, several museums worked with the St. Pete Beach Chamber, and Penny Mathes its director, whom we sent on a joint sales mission to South America in the early 1990s.  The beach chamber was the one focused on tourism.

The Dali Museum also participated in a sales mission to Brazil when that market was emerging by sending Portuguese-speaking docent Charlotte Smythe. This was done in conjunction with the then-Tampa Hillsborough Convention and Visitors Bureau and really helped lead the way for South American tourists to the area who in turn visited museums and discovered the concentration of culture in the downtown. It was after some of these grass roots efforts that the sales arm of the Pinellas County TDC (Discover Florida’s Suncoast) started to focus on this market and eventually hired a South American representative.

The chamber also helped contribute to the positioning of St. Petersburg in its visitor guide, and the tourist information centers soon were distributing materials that promoted all the museums and cultural facilities.

Government’s Role

While the thrust of changing St. Petersburg came from within, the assistance of various governmental agencies certainly contributed and the individuals involved were a great reason why. The Pinellas County Arts Council, under the directorship of Judith Powers Jones, was always available to help and provided small grants to organizations. But, like the CVB was a county organization and the promotion of one area over another wasn’t good policy.  The city also contributed significantly by co-sponsoring events that allowed for police, fire and trash removal as an in-kind donation to the event.  And as I mentioned before, Anita Treiser with the city, had a passion and a vision that was shared by the core group of people who worked to position St. Petersburg as a cultural destination.

New product development grant money was available and the museums applied as a group.  It took some coaxing and there was still some push-back that bed tax money shouldn't be spent promoting cultural attractions in downtown St. Petersburg. But it passed and this black and white scan shows a little of the brochure that was produced focusing on the seven downtown St. Petersburg museums.

New product development grant money was available and the museums applied as a group. It took some coaxing and there was still some push-back that bed tax money shouldn’t be spent promoting cultural attractions in downtown St. Petersburg. But it passed and this black and white scan shows a little of the brochure that was produced focusing on the seven downtown St. Petersburg museums.

In addition, a city staff member, Anita mentioned above, was assigned to assist the museums and form a group that met periodically to discuss matters of common concern. The city also assisted with Museum Month by printing collateral on the city’s presses, promoting museums through the city television channel and water bill inserts.

The City of St. Petersburg was one of the few cities to provide financial support to the arts in 1992 with $225,446 in its budget as a line item to be granted to 21 cultural organizations.

Continued in Part 4

How St. Petersburg became the cultural center of the west coast of Florida – Part 2

A Cultural Destination takes aim

With four museums in downtown St. Petersburg operating in the late 1980s it was critical to help create a destination out of what existed. Even the Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) did not include a lot of information about the museums in its promotional material in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In fact, I remember quite clearly being told by then-director of the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council (the precursor to the CVB), Bill Sheeley, who asked me “why on earth would people leave the beaches to visit a museum in downtown St. Petersburg?”  It was shocking to say the least but it was the thought by virtually everyone in the hospitality industry at that time.

A 1998 advertisement in a tourist guide promotes the cultural diversity of downtown St. Petersburg in a cooperative effort among museums and galleries.

A 1998 advertisement in a tourist guide promotes the cultural diversity of downtown St. Petersburg in a cooperative effort among museums and galleries that was coordinated by the museums and iniated by them.  The sales reps and owners of these publications shared our understanding of creating a destination.  Specifically SEE Magazine and Darlene Kole; Chuck and Jim Wray with CJ Publishers and Drake Decker with Florida Suncoast Tourism Promotions.

A lot of work had to be done.  The international significance of the Dali Museum was the sole draw for me in taking the position as the first marketing director.  That those in charge of promoting tourism internationally didn’t recognize the potential was disappointing.  But we soldiered on in our work.

The growth of the international market for Pinellas County in tourism, a change in leadership and the interest in the Salvador Dali Museum’s increasing international tourism figures, led to the CVB being interested in, first, the draw of the Dali Museum, specifically with German visitors, and second, the cultural scene in general in St. Petersburg which was favored by tourists who were looking for a more cultural experience.

The late 1980s also saw a lot of crime and downtown store closings in St. Petersburg which was late in its downtown decline compared to a lot of cities. Understanding that the Dali Museum opened in 1982 and Great Explorations adjacent to it in 1988, it was only natural for the two museums to cooperate to attract visitors to the south side of downtown St. Petersburg. This became the start of cooperative marketing in St. Petersburg.

It was during this time also that the Downtown Core Group – a grass roots organization – started promoting events and shopping plus a group called Common Ground – a group that consisted of the major downtown marketing directors – started the First Fridays events.  The first First Friday was an experiment to see if anyone would stay downtown after 5 PM on a Friday.  I remember pulling beer taps that night with Toni Tassoni from the Pier and others to a crowd of about 100 people.  And that might be on the high side.  We were thrilled.

But as late as 1995, I recall speaking with a friend who was hired to handle marketing and sales for the Florida International Museum. She was from Boston, and asked me when we were speaking about downtown, “where are all the people?” Clementine Brown, who is a pioneer in cultural tourism in Massachusetts, became a dear friend and colleague as we worked toward the common goal of letting people know what downtown St. Petersburg really had to offer but I get ahead of myself by a few years.

Early Cooperative Marketing

There has been cooperative marketing in the cultural attractions for many years across the state of Florida.  There have been attractions associations at local and regional levels whereby attractions cooperated with brochures and certainly at the state level when, in 1949, a group of attractions formed the Florida Attractions Association.  But museums in Florida at that time really were in their infancy and were best represented by the Ringling Museum and its Circus Galleries and the Lightner Museum of Hobbies.  I will write more on the state level for another article.  Back to St. Petersburg and museums in particular.

The first cooperative marketing among the museums, took place in 1990 when friendship struck up between Mary Lee Hanley, director of marketing for Great Explorations, and myself, then director of marketing at the Dali Museum. We both had major announcements and both believed that downtown St. Petersburg had so many of the elements of a great cultural destination but that they really weren’t linked. In early 1990, stationery was created that linked the two facilities as the “Museums of Bayboro,” named for the Bayboro Harbor that both were next to.

One of the earliest pieces of cooperative work between the museums of St. Petersburg was this joint press reception under the banner of The Museums of Bayboro between the Dali Museum and Great Explorations in 1991.

One of the earliest pieces of cooperative work between the museums of St. Petersburg was this joint press reception under the banner of The Museums of Bayboro between the Dali Museum and Great Explorations in 1991.

It more than likely started on a cocktail napkin, but nonetheless, we were off and running with our cooperative marketing and joint press release that included an offer of a media familiarization tour to include the Dali Museum’s new purchase of a major painting that was being unveiled and the announcement of a new exhibition at Great Explorations.

The media mission included a recommendation to “include the Museum of Fine Arts, P. Buckley Moss Gallery, Florida Craftsman Gallery, The Arts Center and The Pier, all within minutes of Bayboro Harbor.” If I recall, these were selected due to their uniqueness in St. Petersburg and their cultural focus.

We were fortunate to have Karen Smith, who was the travel writer for the Fort Myers daily newspaper who produced a nice piece on the openings and St. Petersburg. Our goal was always to promote the museums but to ensure the destination was treated as a cultural one with Smith and the other journalists who attended this press event.

Another cooperative effort, this time under the umbrella of the Chamber of Commerce, was the Artworks! Festival. Organized by a friend, Kathleen Pazourek, this festival in 1991 included some great artwork from Phillip Gary Design, a local design firm whose owners, David Meek and Jeff Papa, were extremely talented graphic artists. The event included the American Stage in the Park Shakespeare series, a Kid’s Art Festival, A celebration of Salvador Dali’s birthday, the Mainsail Art Show, a music concert and Art Express which was a gallery hop of 14 museums and galleries. This festival helped people to understand the large number of cultural attractions and facilities that already existed in St. Petersburg.

Another small, but significant piece, was the creation of a generic pamphlet entitled “Downtown St. Petersburg, The Heart of the Arts in Tampa Bay,” which was produced by the Dali Museum and included other arts organizations along with a map of downtown St. Petersburg. It was printed at no charge by the local Sir Speedy print shop. This became a piece that was included in all the Dali Museum press packets and distributed to travel writers and travel agents as the Dali continued to expand its marketing to become a global entity. This was the first printed piece that included all the museums of St. Petersburg and had distribution beyond the city’s limits.

The Artworks! flyer, as simple as it was, created a focus on the arts through events in downtown St. Petersburg in 1991.  This piece was inserted into cable bills.  The flyer to the right, which was produced on various neon paper, was produced at no cost to any of the arts organizations and was distributed through Dali Museum press packets and group tour operator packets in addition to other outlets and highlighted the concentration of the arts facilities in downtown St. Petersburg.  It was used by the Dali Museum as a sales tool to bring in groups and promote the city to travel writers as early as 1990.

The Artworks! flyer, as simple as it was, created a focus on the arts through events in downtown St. Petersburg in 1991. This piece was inserted into cable bills. The flyer to the right, which was produced on various neon paper, was produced at no cost to any of the arts organizations and was distributed through Dali Museum press packets and group tour operator packets in addition to other outlets and highlighted the concentration of the arts facilities in downtown St. Petersburg. It was used by the Dali Museum as a sales tool to bring in groups and promote the city to travel writers as early as 1990.

In 1993, the first Museum Month was developed and was a cooperative effort among the Dali Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Great Explorations and the Museum of History. It involved friends and colleagues: Mary Lee Hanley, David Blackman, Don Baldwin, Anita Treiser and I.

The first Museum Month in 1993 is celebrated at City Hall with Mayor David Fischer, Michael Milkovich (Museum of Fine Arts), Mary Wyatt Allen (St. Petersburg Museum of History), Wayne Atherholt (Dali Museum), Eileen Smith (Great Explorations) and Anita Treiser with the City of St. Petersburg.

The first Museum Month in 1993 is celebrated at City Hall with Mayor David Fischer, Michael Milkovich (Museum of Fine Arts), Mary Wyatt Allen (St. Petersburg Museum of History), Wayne Atherholt (Dali Museum), Eileen Smith (Great Explorations) and Anita Treiser with the City of St. Petersburg.

Anita was with the City of St. Petersburg and was instrumental in making this happen as the city agreed to print the brochures that were used to promote the event. Each of us had committed to making sure downtown St. Petersburg was a success and the success of downtown St. Petersburg was essential to the institutions we served.  Here is a link to a Museum Month brochure from 1995.

A press release from 1995 publicizing Museum Month in downtown St. Petersburg.

A press release from 1995 publicizing Museum Month in downtown St. Petersburg.

The tasks were divided up, usually at a happy hour somewhere downtown.  And back then the selection of places for happy hour consisted of about four locations.  Someone took on the job of compiling the events, creating and distributing press releases, creating a poster and brochure, faxing information sheets to area hotels and other tasks to make the first “Sunsational Museums Month” a success and gain publicity for the fact that there were four excellent museums all located in downtown St. Petersburg.  Keep in mind this was all done before the internet.  We had word processors and fax machines in those earlier days.

Continued in Part 3

Another cooperative effort for Museum Month was sponsored by USAir.

Another cooperative effort for Museum Month was sponsored by USAir (Nell Iba, a friend from my airline days helped on this) and the St. Petersburg Times.  We also got a hotel stay that was coordinated by the Stouffer Vinoy Resort that had just opened in St. Petersburg.

Continued in Part 3