Underpass project brightens the Deuces gateway

BY JEFFREY ZANKER, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The near completion of the Deuces Interstate-275 Lighting and Landscape Improvement Project was unveiled last weekend. The column lighting, landscaping and murals are complete and the underpass lighting is expected to be completed by year-end.

“I was determined to see that the gateway was beautified,” Carolyn Brayboy, who initiated the project in 2013, said.

The project is part of the economic revitalization plan for the 22nd Street South business district. The area, known as the Deuces, once thrived with 100 local businesses such as the Manhattan Casino. In the late 1970s, the interstate cut through the neighborhood, dividing the street between Seventh and Ninth Avenue. This is one of several factors that led to the area’s decline.

I-275 underpass, featured

Brayboy, chair of the Deuces Live Design committee, has worked with her husband Elihu for five years on redevelopment projects for the area. She described the underpass as “a dark sight” with fences on each side, broken sidewalks and trash. Seeing the I-275 underpass as a gateway to the Deuces main street, she decided to do something about it.

“The goal was to turn something very ugly into something beautiful,” said Gloria Campbell, a 22nd Street South business owner member and immediate past president of Deuces Live.

The Deuces Live design committee planned lighting, landscaping and artistic murals to brighten the previously dark scenery. They went through the long process to get approval, funding and contracts from the city’s engineering department, City council and finally the Florida’s Department of Transportation consent. It took four years to get the project off the drawing board.

“I thought it was going to be a quick project,” said Campbell.

Other groups involved included Penny for Pinellas, who also help fund for improvements. The committee also worked in conjunction with the St. Petersburg’s Art Alliance and Public Arts Commission, who helped fund the murals.

Wayne Atherholt, director of Cultural Affairs for the city describes the project as an experiment, being the city’s first to allow murals on underpasses.

The project commenced with an inauguration ceremony in June, which Mayor Rick Kriseman, Deputy Mayor Dr. Kanika Tomalin, the families of former Deuces Business owners, the Brayboys and others spoke about their goals.

Construction started late June until last week with delays due to Hurricane Irma.

The landscaping portion has made “more room” for the underpass, said Veatrice Farrell, Deuces Live program manager. The construction team removed the fences, the broken sidewalks and the asphalt from the parkway, replaced with newly constructed and colored concrete surfaces. Other additions include royal palm trees and shrubs on each corner of the underpass.

The underpass lights on the columns and the lighting for the murals are currently functioning. The overpass lighting is still in the works.

 “This has improved the aesthetics of the underpass,” said Veatrice Farrell, the Deuces Live program manager.

The committee selected two local artists, Carlos “Zulu Painter” Culbertson and Jared “Thirst” Hernandez, to collaborate together on the murals. They have previously worked together on several murals across the St. Petersburg area especially on the 22nd Business District. Some of Culbertson’s murals include the Ella Fitzgerald portrait and the Deuces railroad migration history.

“They are part of the musical heritage and keeping it alive,” said Culbertson, referring to the Deuces history being once a prominent stop for famous performers such as James Brown and Louis Armstrong.

“This is only just one of many more,” Farrell said, referring to the Deuces revitalization plan. The committee is still in discussion for the capital improvement project.

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