SAFETY HARBOR — The long-struggling Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History will get a new manager in the new year: the city government.
Under an agreement approved by both the museum's board of trustees and the City Commission, the city will take over day-to-day operations, using existing staff in the city leisure services department along with volunteers and part-time staff the museum already has on board.
The museum also will get renovations, new programming and a new name in 2012 to reflect a new direction. Though it will remain a place where visitors can learn about the history of the area and view historical artifacts, that will not be its sole purpose under the new arrangement.
"We are really repackaging the facility," said City Manager Matt Spoor, to make it "more of a heritage or cultural center." Space devoted to history will be reduced when the city-owned building is renovated next year, freeing up more space for art and cultural exhibits and activities.
The board of the nonprofit museum, in addition to raising funds for the facility, will continue to own and handle the collection of historical artifacts and will train the city recreation staff in how to work with those valuable items. However, all programming and tours will be coordinated through the city.
The small concrete-and-stucco building at 324 S Bayshore Blvd. will be closed at some point in the coming year for renovations inside and out. Some officials favor an exterior design that would make the building look like an old Florida home with a wraparound porch. The property also would get new bathrooms, wall and roof repairs, new flooring and a new driveway and parking lot.
The city is still getting estimates for the renovations, but the City Commission has designated $150,000 of unallocated Community Redevelopment Agency funds for the project.
The city also has budgeted $15,000 for annual costs such as utility bills and paper goods at the museum. Since no staff is being added, there are no personnel costs included in the budget.
The three-year agreement between the museum board and city was approved unanimously by both sides. That may surprise some who recall the history of lukewarm relations — even downright hostility at times — between previous museum boards and city officials.
Museum board president Bobbie Wheeler gives much of the credit to Spoor for answering board members' questions, addressing their initial apprehension, and helping the board feel comfortable with the idea of the city as manager.
The board, Wheeler said, likes the idea of a partnership, rather than having to go to the city with hat in hand each year for money to keep the doors open. In recent years, it has been increasingly difficult for the small museum to obtain grants and other funding. The museum hasn't had a full-time director since 2010, and there was little money for marketing the facility.
Under the new agreement, the museum will be marketed through city government. And the museum board, freed of day-to-day management responsibilities, will able to focus more attention on organizing fundraising events, Wheeler said.
City officials are excited about the arrangement, too. The city's existing recreation/community centers are packed with people and programs. The renovated museum will give the leisure services staff an additional venue for programming.
"It's a win-win," Wheeler said.
Diane Steinle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4184.