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Deal gives Chihuly glass art permanent home in St. Petersburg

The new Dale Chihuly museum and gallery at 400 Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg is being renovated. The $6 million Chihuly Collection is set to open July 4 weekend.

JAMES BORCHUCK | Times

The new Dale Chihuly museum and gallery at 400 Beach Drive in downtown St. Petersburg is being renovated. The $6 million Chihuly Collection is set to open July 4 weekend.

ST. PETERSBURG — The Morean Arts Center has inked a deal to bring a permanent collection of Dale Chihuly's internationally celebrated glass art to St. Petersburg, ending months of rumor and speculation about the project that would be the first of its kind in the world.

Katee Tully, executive director of the center, confirmed Monday that a purchase agreement with the Chihuly organization has been signed for installations and sculptures valued at $6 million. The Seattle-based artist will create new works for the Morean Arts Center, which will own the art and operate the museum-quality gallery housing it.

The Morean has a lease agreement with a 25-year option for retail space at 400 Beach Drive NE and has been granted bank financing based on long-term pledges so that the construction can start immediately.

It will be called the Chihuly Collection and is scheduled to open July 4 weekend.

The Morean will also convert its clay studio at the rear of its Central Avenue building into a new hot shop with a viewing area that will seat 90 people. The lot next to the Morean building at Central Avenue and Eighth Street, which was to be used for expansion, will become a parking lot for members and students.

"One of the things that has always made this an attractive project to Dale is that his art could be tied to interactive experiences and education," Tully said. "He doesn't need just another gallery showing his work."

The Chihuly Collection on Beach Drive will occupy 10,000 square feet, with 7,600 devoted to the art. Architect Albert Alfonso of Tampa said the arrangement "will be a sequence of spaces, not like a traditional museum," in which people will weave around in a loop. It will be loosely chronological, beginning with his earliest work and culminating, Tully said, in a "grand finale."

Many will be in genres familiar to fans such as the Persians, Macchia and chandeliers with hundreds of elements.

This is the third attempt by the Morean to bring a permanent collection of Chihuly works to the area. An ambitious plan in 2005 linked it to an expansion in conjunction with a condominium project one block west of the arts center's current location at 719 Central Ave. The center pulled out of the collaboration in 2008 when poor condominium sales threatened its viability.

New plans were drawn for a smaller expansion on its existing site, reconfiguring the building and adding new space for the Chihuly collection. That plan also fell through, a victim of the economy.

Tully said that this arrangement "is on a par with that second plan" in terms of square feet added but, because new construction will be minimal, the cost will be a third of original estimates.

Reach Lennie Bennett at lbennett@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

Deal gives Chihuly glass art permanent home in St. Petersburg 02/15/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 3:17pm]

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