Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Armed Forces Military Museum could move into Clearwater's Harborview Center

Instead of being razed, Harborview Center in Clearwater might hold a big collection now in Largo on life in the battlefield.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Instead of being razed, Harborview Center in Clearwater might hold a big collection now in Largo on life in the battlefield.

CLEARWATER — The Armed Forces Military Museum is considering moving into the Harborview Center, bringing tanks, bombs and bayonets to the closed convention center that's been set for demolition.

The Largo museum would join the Clearwater Marine Aquarium's movie-set tour in resurrecting downtown Clearwater's white elephant, where the city has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to ready the building for wrecking.

The idea is young, thought up in recent weeks during a lunch between Mayor Frank Hibbard and museum founder John J. Piazza Sr. No one knows yet how much it would cost, how long the museum would stay, or how best to mobilize tanks and aircraft for a move to the Clearwater coast.

It's also not clear whether the mayor's fellow City Council members will support the idea, or how much repair work the building would need.

But Hibbard and Piazza said the plan could net the museum more business and draw more people to downtown. Hibbard said his about-face on the Harborview made more sense than tearing it down now for some undetermined future.

"If the Harborview's there," Hibbard said, "you might as well fill it up."

Piazza, a history buff who served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, founded the museum in 1996 after learning his teenage granddaughter didn't know who Adolf Hitler was.

The museum's exhibits toured schools and state fairs before finding a home three years ago in a warehouse off Ulmerton Road. It's a location that Nadine Piazza, the founder's daughter and the museum's director of operations, calls a "challenge." The museum, which she called Florida's largest museum not run on government funds, had about 30,000 visitors last year.

"Any location, versus where we're in now, would be an asset," she said.

The 35,000-square-foot museum chronicles life in the historical battlefield, from the trenches of World War I to the urban combat of the Iraq War. One of its signature pieces is a green service uniform worn by Saddam Hussein, found outside his palace by an Army sergeant in 2003.

Among the museum's 100,000 other items, donated or taken from Piazza's personal collection: weapons, from bows and arrows to sticky bombs and flamethrowers; uniforms, from Korean War fatigues to ghillie camouflage sniper suits; and vehicles, like Patton tanks and a Russian MiG-21 supersonic fighter jet.

The Harborview's open first and third floors, the Piazzas said, would likely fit all of their exhibits, dioramas and current meeting space. The museum has hosted field trips, poker tournaments, memorials, weddings and a bar mitzvah.

The City Council has not publicly discussed the idea. But council members said in phone interviews that the possibilities for the move were dragged down by the problems associated with the Harborview. Member Bill Jonson said the building was out of character for the area and a bruise on downtown.

"It's a big box that's blocking the connection between Coachman Park and downtown, kind of like a Berlin Wall," Jonson said. "I'm looking forward to being able to tear the Harborview Center down."

He and others have been waiting for years as the city tried desperately to flatten it. The council's vote to close the costly center two years ago nudged out its main tenant, a Stein Mart department store. Officials in March rebuffed an Orlando gymnastics school offering the city $105,000 a year to move in. A few months later, they offered Pickles Plus Too, a deli there with a decade left on its lease, a $668,000 settlement to move out.

Moving in the museum could likely involve another long lease, a prospect that has annoyed some. Resident Jack Mortimer wrote to Vice Mayor George Cretekos that "the waterfront shouldn't be locked up … until we know what the public really wants."

Council member John Doran said he would keep an open mind to the idea, but he felt the Harborview's future has long been decided. Residents who think the Harborview is a mistake, he said, might view a new lease as just another flaw.

"If we were going to do something with the Harborview," Doran said, "couldn't we have done something three years ago?"

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or dharwell@sptimes.com.

Armed Forces Military Museum could move into Clearwater's Harborview Center 09/27/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 27, 2011 7:41pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Protectors of Confederate statue readied for a battle that never materialized

    Local Government

    BROOKSVILLE — Big Dixie flags were waving. County employees had erected a barrier around the Confederate soldier statue at Main and Broad streets. Roads and parking areas were blocked off. Uniformed local officers and federal law enforcement patrolled.

    Police tape and barricades surround the Confederate statue in Brooksville.
  2. Manhattan Casino choice causes political headache for Kriseman

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Days before the mayoral primary, Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to let a Floribbean restaurant open in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino has caused political angst within the voting bloc he can least afford to lose: the black community.

    Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman chose a Floribbean restaurant concept to fill Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino. But that decision, made days before next week's mayoral primary, has turned into a political headache for the mayor. Many residents want to see the building's next tenant better reflect its cultural significance in the black community. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  3. FSU-Bama 'almost feels like a national championship game Week 1'

    Blogs

    The buzz is continuing to build for next Saturday's blockbuster showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State.

  4. Plan a fall vacation at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens when crowds are light

    Florida

    Now that the busy summer vacation season is ending, Floridians can come out to play.

    Maria Reyna, 8, of Corpus Cristi, TX. eats chicken at the Lotus Blossom Cafe at the Chinese pavilion at Epcot in Orlando, Fla. on Thursday, August 17, 2017.  Epcot is celebrating it's 35th year as the upcoming Food and Wine Festival kicks off once again.
  5. USF spends $1.5 million to address growing demand for student counseling

    College

    TAMPA — As Florida's universities stare down a mental health epidemic, the University of South Florida has crafted a plan it hopes will reach all students, from the one in crisis to the one who doesn't know he could use some help.

    A student crosses the University of South Florida campus in Tampa, where visits to the school's crisis center more than doubled last year, part of a spike in demand that has affected colleges across the country. The university is addressing the issue this year with $1.5 million for more "wellness coaches," counselors, online programs and staff training. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]