Last steel beam marks construction milestone for Tom and Mary James' museum

Published June 28 2017
Updated June 28 2017

ST. PETERSBURG — Tom and Mary James on Wednesday signed their names to the last steel beam framing the 105-ton stone mesa that will be built at the entrance of the museum that bears their name: the James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Philanthropists Tom and Mary James unveil plans for new St. Petersburg museum

Wednesday's event represented a construction milestone for the $55 million museum being built at 100 Central Ave., said project director Laura Hine, who was among the dozens of officials, community guests and crew members who signed the beam.

The crowd watched as a wire was looped around the beam and a crane lifted it and placed it atop the 219-feet tall steel frame.

"It was a very uplifting moment for everyone," Hine said. "It's really exciting that it's starting to take shape."

Tom James, former chairman of Raymond James Financial, and his wife are building the museum to house up to 500 pieces of art from their 3,000-piece collection, acquired over the course of 50 years. The couple collects pieces that detailed art, landscape and wildlife of the western U.S. It has grown to also include Florida and local artists.

In 2015, the couple bought the first two floors of the building for $13.5 million. Last year they showed renderings of what the 133,600-square-foot building will look like to the St. Petersburg City Council. The building will also have business and retail space.

More than 30,000 of the 84,000 square-foot museum will be gallery space, and a Native American Jewelry collection will be featured. There will be about 6,000 square feet of rental event space, and the space will also include a commercial catering kitchen, a museum store and cafe and a 120-seat theater. The museum will also offer programs and bring in wildlife artists as guest speakers.

Interviews to hire a museum director are underway, Hine said. Museum staff and officer workers will start moving into the building around September and October. By November, the art pieces will start coming in.

The museum is set to open in early 2018, although an exact date hasn't been established.