DUNEDIN — With help from city and state dollars, the city’s 38-year-old fine arts center broke ground Tuesday on a $2.9 million renovation and expansion project.
The project will renovate the Dunedin Fine Art Center’s existing 3,500-square-foot space and add a 7,500-square-foot “west wing.” It also would raise the roof to create a second story, move and expand the gift shop and add an outdoor cafe to the building, which the nonprofit leases from the city.
The arts center offers dozens of visual arts courses to Tampa Bay area residents of all ages, including a popular summer arts camps for kids and evening pottery classes for working adults.
“This is the closest thing we’ve got to an art college,” said Dunedin City Commissioner Ron Barnette.
Tuesday morning, a handful of City Commissioners and art center staff, board members and instructors scooped up small piles of dirt from a premade pile with gold shovels to signify the project’s official start.
Actual construction is supposed to start Wednesday and be completed in May, said Ken Hannon, the center’s associate executive director.
The additional space will allow the arts center to expand its curriculum.
“We’re always considering new media to offer and variation on the old standards,” said Catherine Bergman, the art center’s director and curator of adult education. “It will be essential.”
Bergman said she hopes to bring in a film program and that the renovated center could some day host a film festival.
The center serves more than 4,000 students annually, who come from as far away as Hernando and Sarasota counties.
The city sees the building project as an economic investment.
“From an economic development standpoint, I believe this is very important,” said Dunedin City Manager Rob DiSpirito. “This is the kind of thing that attracts people. We’re a coastal community that doesn’t have an industrial park, so we don’t have traditional industry here. We feel our quality of life, arts and culture and history and our natural environment are our economic development.”
The city is kicking in $500,000 toward the project, a move a majority of commissioners approved in February to complement a matching state grant.
The center is using $1.5 million in funds it has raised through donations, and it’s trying to raise another $1.4 million to cover the project’s remaining costs.
“It’s been a bit of a struggle because people are risk-averse, and yet it’s something that I think we’ve all come to the table and said ‘Yes, I think we can make it happen,’ ” said Amy Heimlich, a member of the art center’s board of directors. If the arts center can’t raise the money right away, it likely will borrow it.
“We’re looking at other options on how we might finance that on an interim basis, such as construction loans,” Hannon said. “In a worst case scenario it would roll over into a standard mortgage, which we would pay off over the next 20 years.”
The state may also help, though the center faces strong competition from arts and culture venues across the state for similar projects.
State Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, who attended Tuesday’s ground-breaking, chairs the House Transportation and Economic Development Appropriation Subcommittee, which vets arts funding requests. He encouraged the art center to ask for money in coming legislative sessions, given that state dollars are becoming more abundant as the economy improves.
“I think Dunedin would be in a good position to be considered very heavily for some of that increased funding,” he said.