Red ribbon? Check. Scissors? Check. The first car ever purchased in Hillsborough County? Check.
All the ingredients for a grand opening of historic proportions are set for Saturday — finally — when doors open to the new 60,000-square-foot Tampa Bay History Center, two decades and $52-million in the making.
A giant flamenco dancer, Babe Ruth, a cigar label and other huge neon icons hanging four stories high hint at what awaits inside the newest addition to the Channel District.
Interactive maps and exhibits showcase 12,000 years of bay area history, from the first native mounds built in downtown Tampa, through Spanish conquistadors, Seminole Indians, cattle ranchers and cigarmakers.
"Be prepared for a lot of aha moments,'' said C.J. Roberts, president of the new museum.
"Don't miss the Spanish explorers' 'Winds of Change' and the story of Seminole leader Coacoochee," said Roberts, singling out two of more than 10 permanent exhibits as must-sees.
The dream of a downtown history center arose in 1986 when a Hillsborough County task force tried to find a home for thousands of artifacts. County commissioners eventually committed $17-million to build the museum; donors put up $32-million privately.
The city and state donated the 2.4 acres of waterfront property at Cotanchobee-Fort Brooke Park with a grant from the Florida Communities Trust.
"Such an exciting partnership of city and county, university and community," said Mark Greenberg, director of special collections at the University of South Florida.