They darted up to the colorful building before the clock struck noon. Squealing and squirming, they pressed their little noses against the glass.
Under their feet was a message in chalk: If you are a dreamer, come in.
And so they did. Hundreds of children ran wild through the Glazer Children's Museum on Saturday for the venue's much anticipated grand opening.
Seven-year-old Christopher Jameson from Hudson said he had been waiting months for this moment.
"I knew it was going to be a lot of fun," Christopher said, listing the museum features he was most excited to try: the Water's Journey climbing tunnel, the Engineer's Workshop, the Hospital.
"He plans on making many, many visits," said Christopher's dad, Grant.
The 53,000-square-foot museum broke ground in March 2009. At the northwest corner of the new Curtis Hixon Park on Ashley Drive, it's a key piece of the expansive Riverwalk project, which aims to invigorate downtown Tampa.
On Saturday, it seemed to be working.
As they waited for the doors to open, kids played along the water at the park's playground. Nearby, a group of teens played Frisbee in the grass.
A family walked across the street to have lunch at the Five Guys burger joint, and a dog walker stopped to let a little girl coo.
"It's a great day for Tampa," said museum board chairwoman Sandy Murman. "I just think the community is ready for it."
Many of the kids and their parents compared the new museum to the Museum of Science and Industry, across from the University of South Florida, or Great Explorations in St. Petersburg.
Maybe it was the newness of it all, but the Glazer museum won every time.
Kids played dressup in the Twinkle Stars Theatre. A pigtailed girl at the lighting station controlled the colors and sounds. At the Get Moving sports station, bare feet scurried up a climbing wall and hopped along lighted lily pads. A boy dodged virtual soccer balls that seemed to soar toward him from a video screen. A waiter served pizzas made of felt at the miniature Outback Cafe. A girl became a robot at the face-painting corner of the Art Lab. A pair of twin toddlers sported identical hats, jackets and boots in the Firehouse.
Nicholas Powell, 6, donned a doctor's coat and big plastic glasses in the Vet Clinic. He gingerly placed a stuffed-animal hamster on an operating table and glanced at an X-ray screen. "We had to save him," Nicholas explained. "You know. Fleas."
And while the kids had free rein, their parents were often playing right next to them.
"I want to try!" said Maria Sanchez, mother of 11-year-old Julian Araque, after Julian slid out of the Water's Journey climbing exhibit.
Suddenly, a group of kids rushed to the window. Across the street, at the top of the SkyPoint condominium building, a man stood waving.
"Go! Go! Go!" they screamed.
The parents glanced around, nervously.
But then came the jump, and a somersault. With a parachute billowing behind him, the daredevil glided to the grass in Curtis Hixon Park.
"WOAHHH!" Then as quickly as they came, the kids scurried back to their activities.
And outside, children continued streaming in past those words colored in chalk, from Shel Silverstein's poem Invitation.
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer …
If you're a pretender, come sit by my fire.
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin.
Come in! Come in!
Kim Wilmath can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 661-2442.