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Tampa Bay History Center debuts Saturday

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.

if you go

Grand opening of the tampa bay history center

Where: Tampa Bay History Center, 801 Old Water St.

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

What: A military flag raising and formal ribbon cutting at 11 a.m., hosted by WFLA-Ch. 8 anchor Keith Cate and WFLA-970 AM's Jack Harris, starts the free outdoor entertainment. Visitors will meet Rough Riders and Buffalo Soldiers, cigar rollers, sponge cutters and other historical re-enactors. Next up: flamenco dancers, Elvis and Ray Charles impersonators, and Tampa Bay Bucs, Rays and Lightning athletes, mascots and cheerleaders on the waterfront behind the St. Pete Times Forum.

Admission: $7 to $12, depending on age group. The first 2,500 visitors to enter will receive reusable Publix Greenwise shopping bags full of goodies, distributed by Girl Scouts in historic uniforms. Admission is free for the military Sunday. Call 228-0097 for information.

To volunteer at the center

The Tampa Bay History Center is looking for energetic and committed volunteers. Call Ellen Robinson at 831-2635 or e-mail

Tampa Bay History Center debuts Saturday 01/15/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 15, 2009 3:30am]
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