When the long-struggling Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History turned over daily operations to the city last year, critics questioned the wisdom of the agreement.
Would the partnership cost the city extra money? Would the city staff interfere with the museum board? And with the museum required to share space with city recreation and arts programs, would it be forced to discard some of its artifacts?
Now, a full year after the city renovated and reopened the bright blue building at 329 Bayshore Blvd., none of those fears has been realized.
"I think everybody has started to see the light of those changes, and everybody likes what they see," said City Manager Matt Spoor.
For the city, the new Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center provides space to hold classes from creative writing to jewelrymaking. For the museum, the arrangement provides financial stability and drives foot traffic to view its hundreds of historical artifacts.
"Now they can concentrate on their mission and not on keeping the lights on," Spoor said.
Safety Harbor spent $170,000 on upgrades and took on operating expenses in exchange for access to a part of the museum space.
To keep costs down, the city moved three staffers to the museum building, where, in addition to their previous duties, they coordinate classes and rent the space for weddings and other events on the weekends.
The classes and rentals pay for most, but not all, of the museum's operating costs. But the city still comes out ahead compared to the $15,000 to $40,000 it previously donated to the museum annually, Spoor said.
Kathy O'Brien, 67, a retired academic director for an orthopedic implant company, said she has lived in Safety Harbor on and off for roughly 30 years. For years, she said, she walked three days a week on Bayshore Boulevard but never set foot in the museum.
On a recent Tuesday morning, she and two classmates were in a watercolor class chatting as they scrubbed toothbrushes along postcard-sized canvases to make crashing ocean waves look foamy.
"I can't believe I lived in Safety Harbor so long and never realized the wealth of treasures that were there," O'Brien said, referring to the artifacts.
The following day, museum tour guide Scott Anderson sipped from a coffee mug as he showed off artifacts to a historical group called the Questers. A retired Clearwater police officer and a member of the museum's board for about 12 years, Anderson smiled as he showed the Questers his favorite piece, a ruby red arrowhead made from fossilized coral that's estimated to be 50 million years old.
He told them about the Tocobaga Indians, who once inhabited Safety Harbor. And about Odet Phillipe, thought to be the first nonnative settler in Pinellas County, whose claims about being dear friends with Napoleon Bonaparte were apparently far-fetched.
"I just love it here," a woman with a floral blouse and big purse whispered to a fellow Quester. "I learn something new every time."
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