SAFETY HARBOR — The mayor walked up to the museum, its outside a fresh hue of bright blue. He stepped through the door onto the shiny new floors of polished, stained concrete.
Gone was every suggestion of its former state: the faded yellow paint, the outdated carpet and the stale smell.
"I was," Mayor Andy Steingold said, "completely impressed with the renovation."
After months of construction, the overhaul of the Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History will be publicly unveiled at its grand opening Friday. The new Safety Harbor Museum and Cultural Center will also host a slew of arts and cultural classes beginning in January — a new initiative.
Some locals got an early peek at the changes at the recent annual Toys, Joys and Wreaths fundraiser to benefit the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center.
"The few people that have seen it cannot believe it's the same space," said Bobbie Wheeler, co-president of the museum board.
With its new look and purpose, the reimagined museum will likely attract folks who never frequented the Bayshore Boulevard building before, she said.
Last year, the city entered a public-private partnership with the nonprofit museum board after the museum had struggled for years. The board maintains historical exhibits and continues to offer its summer camps, but the city will relocate some staff members into the museum and run additional classes, workshops and events.
The museum closed in March for extensive interior and exterior renovations. The city budgeted $150,000 for the work, later increasing the amount to $170,000. Some of the additional costs came from redoing the floors and moving a utility line.
The work transformed the museum. Interior walls came down, opening up one big room as multiuse space. Overgrown plants were cleared from the lot and an outdoor porch was built.
"Everything from top to bottom was pretty much redone," said Shannon Schafer, city recreation superintendent and public art liaison.
The renovation makes way for 15 classes to teach acting, writing and art in many different media. Workshops will teach people how to use social media, publish novels and meditate.
That helps fulfill Schafer's one wish for the place: that it is well used by residents.
"I want the community to just come interested, enjoy it and be educated on how their city was formed," she said.
Without needing additional staff members, the city-run classes are expected to alleviate the expense of running the museum and cultural center.
When the museum was privately operated, the city allocated about $15,000 in annual funding for it. Now, budget projections call for $51,500 for the museum's operations. But the museum could in turn generate $53,000 in revenue. Those costs and gains are directly tied to each other, City Manager Matt Spoor said. If the museum holds fewer classes, both revenues and expenses would decline.
So, instead of pulling $15,000 from the city each year, the museum could bring in $2,500.
As for the historical exhibits, the new space offers more display flexibility. The permanent exhibits focus on bay area history as well as Safety Harbor-specific history.
"They'll have a whole new look and feel to them," said Wheeler, of the museum board. "It's just like rearranging your living room. It's amazing what you can do with that."
Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or [email protected]