The timing may seem odd, given the recession. But Tampa is undergoing the most expansive cultural transformation in more than a quarter-century.
In the coming weeks and months, a new history center, fine arts museum, children's museum and Riverwalk will either open or expand along the downtown waterfront. Officials are looking to accommodate the growing needs of the performing arts center. Curtis Hixon Park has been redesigned to serve as downtown's main public square.
The heavy lifting for these projects began years ago, before the economic downturn. Many plans were scaled back to reduce costs. But the projects are going into the ground and will reshape the look, economics and character of downtown Tampa.
The remarkable achievement is not only that so many amenities are opening at once, but that they work in concert. The facilities will establish a footpath from the northernmost edge of downtown all along the Hillsborough River to the channel district. This real estate is the site of Tampa's start as a port city, an ethnic melting pot whose immigrant culture is alive today.
The history center opens in January. Its 60,000 square feet will showcase the region's link to American Indians and pioneer explorers (check the Webcam at tampabayhistorycenter.org). The 66,000-square-foot fine arts museum is scheduled to open next fall, after years of delays and recriminations over where to build and how much to spend. In the last month alone, the Corbett and the Morsani families have strengthened the museum with major gifts. And the children's museum, backed by the Glazer family, expects to break ground in the coming weeks on a 53,000-square-foot facility alongside the arts museum at Hixon Park.
These venues, and the new condominiums downtown, should give the city center a fresh feel and jolt of energy. Perhaps as importantly, in these economic times they stand as symbols that cities must continue to progress and stay vibrant. The mayor, the county commission and the private sector — despite theatrics at times — worked well together. The philanthropic community stepped up, and a new generation of civic leaders stepped forward. The fruits of that hard work are finally rising from the ground, and the region should be proud and supportive.