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Monday, Dec 22, 2014
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Mural to depict Central Avenue's heyday

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TAMPA - Public art to honor the musical heritage of Central Avenue's once-thriving black entertainment district is in the planning stages for an apartment building at Encore.

Tampa City Council today had been expected to approve a $40,000 contract with Vermont-based Natalie Blake Studios for three tile murals on an outer wall of The Trio. The vote has been delayed at least a week to review the project and potentially secure additional money. The murals on the apartment building at 101 Ray Charles Blvd. would face Perry Harvey Sr. Park and Central.

"It's something we haven't seen in this area. We think it will be memorable," said Leroy Moore, chief operating officer for the Tampa Housing Authority.

The Trio is expected to open by March. Encore is planned as a mixed-income residential and shopping center with streets, buildings and public art recalling the history of a neighborhood founded by freed slaves after the Civil War. It is on the site of a former public housing complex, Central Park Village, which was dismantled nearly six years ago.

During segregation, a black business and entertainment district sprang up around Central Avenue. Among performers who played local clubs were Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Count Basie and James Brown. Ray Charles recorded his first song at a studio on Central.

The area was destroyed in the 1960s by highway widening projects.

Costs of The Trio's artwork would be divided between the city and Friends of Tampa Public Art Foundation. The foundation received its share of money for the project through the Tampa Housing Authority, which is building Encore.

The Ella, a senior apartment building named for Fitzgerald, opened last year at Encore. Two more apartment buildings, The Trio for families and The Reed for seniors, are under construction. More than 50 artists nationwide responded to the request for suggestions, said Robin Nigh, the city's public art director.

It was important to find an artist whose work was creative but also would withstand weather and time, she said.

"She works in durable materials," Nigh said of Blake.

Three 4- by 12-foot panels with ceramic tiles are proposed. Blake's technique produces three-dimensional images.

Moore said Blake's initial presentation was of images of musical instruments and profiles of famous people. Before a final design is chosen, she will get feedback from the committee, which includes city and housing authority representatives and a former Central Park Village resident. Installation could happen by year's end.

"She had a feel for the area," Nigh said. "It's just a good thing and a visual respite in the area."

To view Blake's artwork, visit Facebook.

ksteele@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7652

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