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Local wood craftsman seeks to transform downed Banyan tree after its controversial removal

Posted at 3:23 PM, Aug 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-08-06 17:56:27-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - — The removal of a Banyan tree drew wide outcry from a historic St. Petersburg neighborhood. Now, a local wood craftsman is making sure the tree doesn’t just rot away.

11,000 pounds of wood is all that's left of one of three sister Banyan trees in Historic Uptown.

Reale is a wood craftsman and owns Nick Reale Woodturning.

“There’s a little bit of it left," said Reale as he pointed toward the ground, "and it was just a behemoth of a tree, just like Banyan trees are. It was a huge beautiful tree."

The tree's removal from Granvill Court North was controversial. Neighbors and indigenous people showed up with signs and protested its removal on Wednesday. Ben Kirby, the City of St. Petersburg mayoral spokesperson, says the tree couldn’t be saved.

“The proof is in the pudding on that one. It’s true," said Reale. "There are huge voids of rot and huge voids of damage.”

Reale wants to give it a legacy. He's turning the trunk into a memorial bench for the neighborhood.

“It’s going to get a new life and live on in furniture, bowls, boxes, remembrances, souvenirs. It’s not just going to sit in a dump and rot away," he said.

The death of the tree is seemingly breathing life into the neighborhood. People donated their time and equipment, such as a sawmill and forklift to help Reale. Neighbors like Alex Kaufman were eager to help craft Reale's vision.

“It’s definitely part of the identity. That’s why there’s so much feeling about it," said Kaufman.

Reale says the project will take a while. He estimates it will be as long as a year before the wood slabs dry out and he can start working on them. He’s, nonetheless, grateful so many want to help.

“It does restore my faith in humanity and we haven’t talked politics once which is awesome," he laughed.

Reale wants to pay it forward beyond his gifts to the community. He wants to sell some pieces and donate the proceeds toward preserving the remaining sister Banyan trees.