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New Glazer Children's Museum adds 'amazing' venue for Tampa Bay families

TAMPA

Kelly Davison did her homework before coming to the Glazer Children's Museum sneak preview Sunday. She printed out the exhibit information from the museum's website and studied it with her children, Connor, 5, and Kaia, 2.

By the time they got there, they had a good idea of what they wanted to see, but worried about one thing:

"I don't know how we're going to get it all done,'' she said.

Her husband, Corey, was quick to offer a solution: "We'll just have to come back.''

That was exactly what museum officials hope for as they gear up for Saturday's public opening of Tampa's newest kids' attraction. In the works for years, the museum completes the multimillion-dollar rebirth of downtown's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, which also is home to the Tampa Museum of Art and a stretch of the Riverwalk.

The Glazer museum opened Sunday to 60 families that won passes to a Golden Ticket party. Oompa-Loompa-like museum mascots and Captain Fear from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheered as visitors made their way through the doors.

"I thought it was amazing,'' said 10-year-old Noah Cagle, who pretend-produced a space show in the Twinkle Stars Theater with his parents and two younger sisters. "I liked how they had so many different rooms.''

Designed for children ages 10 and younger, the $20 million museum has hands-on activities to spark imagination and curiosity about how the world works. It has 12 theme areas and 170 "inter-activities."

The design-and-build area lets kids construct their own city, operate a crane and install bathroom plumbing. At Art Smart, children can be dancers, painters or kaleidoscope makers.

Similar to the Great Explorations Children's Museum in St. Petersburg, the new museum has a city area with a hospital, veterinary clinic, pizza parlor and supermarket with digital checkout scanners and pint-sized carts. Children can put a stethoscope to a stuffed dog or put together a puzzle of a human skeleton using X-rays.

"It seems like the best of each place is here,'' said Missy Vivino, who has annual passes to every kid-friendly place in town.

The museum got its start more than 20 years ago when two Tampa women raised $18,000 to open the Children's Museum of Tampa at the old Floriland Mall, with a bubble machine, a telephone switchboard, grocery store and doctor's office.

Soon after, museum backers cut a deal with the city to lease Safety Village in Lowry Park for $1 a year. The village, renamed Kid City, gave children run of a kid-sized insurance office, fire station, radio station, McDonald's, Publix and City Hall.

Planning for a larger museum began in the late 1990s. Then in 2004, Mayor Pam Iorio offered the museum a prime parcel on the edge of Curtis Hixon Park.

The Glazer museum marks the final piece of the waterfront park, which has enjoyed a boost in popularity since its recent $15 million renovation. Its dog run, playground and children's fountains attract downtown residents, workers and area families.

"The children's museum, arguably, started the ball rolling with the entire park concept," Iorio said. "They were the first to really have any space in the park. The park hadn't been designed, and we didn't even know where the art museum was going to go."

Other than the land, the city gave the museum no money. Hills­borough County contributed $3 million.

"For a family to be able to go and romp in the park for free, enjoy the waterfront and now have a children's museum, that's a quality-of-life improvement that's very important to the city," Iorio said.

Critical to the museum project were the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which donated $5 million to the capital campaign in 2007 through its Glazer Family Foundation. As the largest single benefactor, the Glazers earned the museum's naming rights.

Sandy Murman, who chaired the capital campaign, said getting the Glazer donation was a matter of timing. Malcolm Glazer's children were starting families of their own.

"They grew up in New York, where they grew up going to a children's museum," she said.

Other area children's attractions welcomed the addition.

"We've been just as excited as everyone else," said Bradley Neff, community relations director for Great Explorations. "We think that it's going to strengthen the region. We're thrilled."

Great Explorations has struggled financially, but directors say recent cost-cutting measures have helped significantly.

"We've really shook things up to where our operations are solid now," said board member Scott Wagman. "Now we have to build up our donor base."

Even though Great Explorations and the Glazer museum have similar missions, there are some differences. Great Explorations offers a smaller, more intimate experience. It also costs slightly less and has free parking.

While officials expect the Tampa museum to draw people from Pinellas County, Neff said it won't necessarily hurt Great Explorations.

"We want them to succeed," he said. "We know that folks are going to continue to patronize our museum, as well."

Leaders at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry and Florida Aquarium echoed that sentiment, saying the new museum will bring more visitors.

"MOSI is excited that our cultural market is growing and becoming more established, therefore making Tampa more of a destination market," MOSI president Wit Ostrenko said.

Florida Aquarium executives said the museum may lower the aquarium's attendance in the short term, but not the long term.

"We're excited to see downtown Tampa gain another kid-friendly attraction,'' said aquarium spokesman Tom Wagner, noting that the aquarium caters to a broader age range.

Based on their first peek at the museum, many parents said they would consider buying an annual pass, which starts at $90. Already, the museum has 800 members and has booked 25 birthday parties.

Melissa Perkins said she and her children, Brayden, 5, and Taylor, 2, will be regulars. She liked that the museum is easy to navigate and air-conditioned.

"We'll definitely come back,'' she said. "The kids had a blast.''

Times staff writer Justin George contributed to this report. Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 225-3110 or sthurston@tampabay.com.

If You Go

The Glazer Children's Museum opens Saturday, from noon to 8 p.m., at 110 W Gasparilla Plaza, downtown Tampa. Admission is $15 for adults, $9.50 for kids ages 1 to 12 and free to kids under 1. Go to glazermuseum.org or call (813) 443-3861.

if you go

Official opening

The Glazer Children's Museum opens Saturday, from noon to 8 p.m., at 110 W Gasparilla Plaza, downtown Tampa. Admission is $15 for adults, $9.50 for kids ages 1 to 12 and free to kids not yet 1. Go to glazermuseum.org or call (813) 443-3861.

New Glazer Children's Museum adds 'amazing' venue for Tampa Bay families 09/19/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 23, 2010 10:11am]
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