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Tampa council approves $37-million art museum contract

TAMPA — Three years ago, when plans for a new art museum collapsed, its future seemed in doubt. But on Thursday, the City Council approved a contract for construction of a new home for the Tampa Museum of Art.

The $37-million contract with Skanska USA also covers renovation of the surrounding Curtis Hixon Park. That figure includes $8-million provided by the museum's private fundraising efforts.

The vote brings to a close a years-long, emotional saga that included a 2005 standoff between Mayor Pam Iorio and museum leaders over the new building.

"We're glad to have this behind us," Ray Ifert, chairman of the museum board, said after the council's unanimous vote. "It's been a long time."

Iorio called it "a positive day for our city."

"The museum and the park will one day be a central feature of our waterfront and our downtown," she said. "We have worked hard over the past four years to build consensus and support for both of these projects."

Groundbreaking for the 65,800-square-foot museum is slated for April 18. The total cost of the project is $31-million.

The city is contributing $17-million in community investment tax money generated by sales taxes. Ifert said the museum closed on a construction loan earlier this week to help cover the balance.

Discussion of a new museum dates back to 2001, when then-Mayor Dick Greco pledged $27-million to the project. Construction of a $76-million building by renowned architect Rafael Vinoly was slated to begin in 2003. The city paid Vinoly $7-million for his work.

But shortly after taking office in 2003, Iorio postponed groundbreaking until museum leaders could show they had raised enough money to cover the cost to build and operate the new facility.

Although museum officials said they collected more than $40-million in pledges, they failed to secure financing for the building, and the Vinoly plan was scrapped in March 2005.

Iorio proposed alternative sites for the museum, and she and museum leaders in 2006 ultimately settled on a location on the Hillsborough River near the William F. Poe Garage.

Demolition of the old building began in February.

In other action, the City Council elected Tom Scott as its new chairman after council member John Dingfelder nominated him for the post. Scott replaces Gwen Miller, who served as chairwoman for the past four years.

Council member Charlie Miranda had nominated Miller for another term, saying the council needed someone patient, "not insulting," who could work well with other government leaders.

Miranda held the chairman's position for several years during previous tenures on the board.

"I don't ever want to be chair with this group," said Miranda, who is often visibly frustrated during council meetings. "And I mean that sincerely."

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

Tampa council approves $37-million art museum contract 04/03/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 9, 2008 12:54pm]
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