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Tampa looks to add museum and restaurant to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park

TAMPA — A new museum and restaurant may be headed to downtown's signature public space, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

The city issued a request for proposals to build and operate a museum and restaurant across the lawn from the Tampa Museum of Art and Glazer Children's Museum. It would occupy a narrow strip from Ashley Drive to the Hillsborough River that now has the park's restrooms and office.

"I have been very, very aggressively trying to create the critical mass down there that will finish out that park," Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said this week. "It has always been contemplated that that pad would be developed."

Adding another cultural arts facility "would be the icing on the cake," he said. He also likes the idea of bringing a restaurant to draw people and energize the riverfront.

Buckhorn said one applicant submitted a proposal during the bid period, which began Aug. 3 and ended Sept. 4. The city would not release the name of the bidder, citing an exemption to the state's public records law that gives government agencies 30 days before they have to make proposals public.

But Tampa officials have talked to the Palm Harbor-based Two Red Roses Foundation, which has a large collection of decorative objects from the 1900 to 1920 American Arts and Crafts movement. Buckhorn's calendar shows a 90-minute meeting on April 17 between the mayor, City Attorney James Shimberg Jr., city economic opportunity administrator Bob McDonaugh, foundation directors Rudy Ciccarello and Tom Magoulis, and local architects Alberto and Carlos Alfonso.

Buckhorn declined to discuss the purpose of the meeting or to say whether the Two Red Roses Foundation made the proposal. But when asked whether the proposal came from anyone other than the Two Red Roses Foundation, he said no.

Two Red Roses is a nonprofit, educational institution dedicated to the acquisition, restoration and exhibition of furniture, pottery, lighting, textiles and fine arts from the arts and crafts movement, sometimes known as American Craftsman. The foundation was started by Ciccarello, a Palm Harbor businessman who has amassed one of the largest collections of its kind in the United States.

The foundation has held exhibitions at the Leepa-Rattner Museum of Art in Tarpon Springs and the Museum of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. A late 2009 exhibit at the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, Spirit of Simplicity, featured about 150 objects.

Ciccarello fell in love with a reproduction of an early 1900s bookcase by Gustav Stickley and in 1997 began buying authentic pieces from the arts and crafts style. After running out of space in his home, Ciccarello moved much of the 1,000-piece collection into storage in the hopes of finding a permanent home for it in Tampa, according to an August 2011 article in Antiques and the Arts, a weekly newspaper and website.

Lynn Whitelaw, curator of the Leepa-Rattner Museum, said Friday it's Ciccarello's dream to open a museum. He confirmed that the foundation has been in contact with the city of Tampa.

Messages left for foundation officials by the Tampa Bay Times were not returned, and the architects have deferred comments until the city releases the bid details on Oct. 4.

Ciccarello founded Florida Infusion Services, a distributor of drugs and medical supplies to doctors, clinics and pharmacies with annual sales of $440 million. Ybor City-based Alfonso Architects designed the Chihuly Collection at the Morean Arts Center, the Sam Rampello Downtown Partnership School, the University of South Florida Frank and Carol Morsani Center, Carmel Cafe and the former Tampa Museum of Art, among other notable projects.

The city's request for proposals sought applicants to lease the site long-term with the intent to stimulate activity in the adjacent parks, museums and downtown area. It said bidders must have experience in the preservation and exhibition of fine arts and collectibles. Developers would create the museum and restaurant at their own expense.

The request also asked applicants to detail the project's schedule, as well as its budget and their own financial wherewithal to complete the project "and provide long-term financial support" after it is built. Applicants were also asked to specify anything they would need from the city, such as parking or public utilities.

The project would not affect the Twiggs Street turn-around or the parking garage for Rivergate Tower, city spokeswoman Ali Glisson said.

Officials from the Tampa Museum of Art and Glazer's Children Museum said they had no knowledge of the project. But the idea of putting a restaurant next to the park isn't new.

While Curtis Hixon Park was under development, then-Mayor Pam Iorio's administration talked about eventually bringing in a two-level riverside restaurant that would be accessible by foot or by boat.

And if the city reaches an agreement to go forward with a project, it would be the second riverfront restaurant chosen to occupy a piece of city property.

In January, Buckhorn chose a partnership between Columbia Restaurant owner Richard Gonzmart and Bill Rain of Metro Bay Real Estate to undertake a $2 million privately financed renovation of Tampa's historic Water Works Building, which overlooks the river a few blocks north of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. The city plans to do a separate upgrade of the 5-acre Water Works Park.

Gonzmart and Rain have proposed creating a seafood restaurant, chophouse and oyster bar with an outdoor cafe overlooking the river. City officials still must complete a development agreement with the partners.

Tying all these projects together will be the Riverwalk, which Buckhorn expects to complete thanks to a $10.9 million federal transportation grant. The grant will allow the city to fill in two big gaps on the Riverwalk — one going south from Curtis Hixon Park under the Kennedy Boulevard Bridge and a second going north from the performing arts center to Water Works Park.

Times staff writer Amy Scherzer contributed to this report.

Tampa looks to add museum and restaurant to Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park 09/14/12 [Last modified: Friday, September 14, 2012 10:43pm]
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