TAMPA — While the theme from Rocky played and a fireboat sprayed streams of water over the Hillsborough River, shovels finally turned dirt Friday for a new Tampa Museum of Art.
"What a long time to get here. Incredible," museum board chairman Ray Ifert told the crowd that gathered for the celebration and a picnic lunch at the site.
For nearly 10 years, museum supporters have navigated a rocky path toward a new building. Construction prices skyrocketed, the museum's director was forced out, shaky fundraising torpedoed bank financing, and tensions erupted between museum leaders and Mayor Pam Iorio.
But Friday, the years-long effort hit open road.
Former museum board chairman Cornelia Corbett, who stuck with the push through much of the turmoil, received a standing ovation and lengthy applause before making her remarks.
"That kind of took my breath away," she said, her voice cracking with emotion. "It's been an extraordinary eight years that is finally coming to its beginning point of putting a shovel in the ground."
Corbett is the biggest donor to the museum's capital campaign, contributing $2.5-million in February through a family foundation. Ifert announced the museum's community fundraising campaign Friday.
"If you want to name the building, it's still available," he said. "For $10-million, it's yours."
Iorio said the event marked the beginning of turning downtown into a gathering spot for the community. She described her vision of the art museum as part of a cultural hub that will include a new children's museum, new park and the existing Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center connected by a Riverwalk to a history museum now under construction near the St. Pete Times Forum.
The 66,000-square-foot art museum is slated to open in fall 2009. Interim director Ken Rollins said the larger building will allow the museum to attract bigger exhibits and display more of its permanent collection, which is known largely for its photographs and Greek and Roman antiquities.
The total cost of the project is $31-million. The city is contributing $17-million to construction. Museum leaders are responsible for the rest.
Janet Zink can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3401.