If there is a worse idea for Tampa's Curtis Hixon Park than the half-baked scheme to put an arts and crafts museum on the downtown waterfront, the city has yet to hear it.
On Friday, the Palm Harbor-based Two Red Roses Foundation proposed building a $31 million American Craftsman Museum at Curtis Hixon. The nonprofit has one of the largest collections of arts and crafts in America, with everything from furniture to fine arts and pottery. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said the project, which would include a museum and restaurant, would "further energize" the urban core and offer something "totally unique."
The proposal is unique, all right, in all the wrong ways. The city would hand over 1.2 acres of the park for $1 per year for 99 years. Tampa and Hillsborough County taxpayers would provide a $1 million annual subsidy for the first five years; the nonprofit also initially sought another $500,000 annually for every year thereafter. The city would also assume all site demolition and preparation costs, waive all impact fees and property taxes for the life of the museum, provide 30 free parking spaces and promise to help expedite a liquor license for an "upscale" restaurant on the riverfront.
It gets worse. Contrary to the city's claim that the museum would be "adjacent" to the park, the building would actually take over a significant chunk of park space. Curtis Hixon would lose the southern portion of the park, virtually all of its elevated benches and patio tables and what little tree canopy provides shade. Though Two Red Roses claims the building would act as an "urban frame" for the park, nothing could be further from reality. Clogging the park with another needless building would only leave a shotgun of green space to the river. It hems in the park experience with a cul-de-sac feel and cuts off one of the park's signature experiences, the sloping view of the historic and towering minarets across the river at the University of Tampa.
While discussions are continuing, this looks like a dream fishing for a home. The business plan calls for cramming the place with a tourist kiosk for the Chamber of Commerce, an office for the local branch of the architects' society and (what else?) a gift shop. None of these are needed at Curtis Hixon, and they would be a terrible waste of downtown's only meaningful park space. The park already includes two new museums that were shoehorned in along its northern edge. And the city has done a terrific job of drawing events to Curtis Hixon. Adding another museum on the opposite side of the park would convert the remaining open space into a wind tunnel and reverse the progress the city has made in opening up the riverfront. Tampa has too much invested in its public lawn to squander it on such an unfocused idea.