Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry will welcome a new high-tech permanent exhibit coming this fall that envisions a future with driverless cars and refrigerators that order food for you.
Elements of the exhibit were revealed at a VIP party Thursday evening. It could be a boost for a museum on the verge of major change, but trying to remind the public it still exists.
Thanks to a $2.5 million grant from the Florida's Division of Cultural Affairs and private partnerships, MOSI will spend $5.5 million on this as-yet-unnamed exhibit and other upgrades, MOSI spokesman Grayson Kamm said. The new exhibit, he said, will "touch the future with technology."
Guests will enter through a tunnel lit up with questions about the future, leading to a high-tech playground where interactive exhibits will change every three to four months.
Partners include Verizon, Zephyrhills-based drone company Turin Aviation and driverless car company Meridian.
Guests can also witness a model of a "gigabit city" from Metro Development Group, the Tampa-based developer of speedy UltraFi service in communities such as Union Park in Wesley Chapel, and the planned "connected city corridor" of central Pasco. Ultrafast Internet access is one of the centerpieces of the newly designated area, first in the country to be built as a smart gigabit community. Where traditional broadband Internet access can take five minutes to download 100 pictures, gigabit fiber access can do it in three seconds.
The exhibit will be kid-friendly, but MOSI officials hope it appeals to adults intrigued by the idea of the "Internet of things." That's anything from self-adjusting thermostats that know you're coming home to a refrigerator that knows when your eggs are running low and orders more.
"The idea is not as much a kids-only section, but we are working hard to make sure this appeals to every level," Kamm said.
There's just one problem, Kamm said. Too many people think MOSI is already closed down in anticipation of its move near downtown Tampa.
"We get that all the time," Kamm said. "People think we're already closed, and we are still very much in business."
In April, MOSI's board made headlines when it decided to move the museum to a 40-acre development project from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Cascade Investment near downtown Tampa.
But planning and building a new museum will take a few years. In the meantime, MOSI still has 300,000 square feet of exhibit space, a ropes course and an IMAX theater, plus new space exhibits coming this summer.
The museum first opened across from the University of South Florida on Fowler Avenue in 1982 and expanded in 1995. It is billed as the largest science center in the Southeast, but attendance has languished in recent years and debt has grown.
A consultant's study estimated that moving the museum to Tampa's Channelside area would increase attendance and generate more repeat visitors. The move will aim to help MOSI expand its audience to include more attractions for childless adults and seniors.
At 6 p.m. Thursday, MOSI unveiled some of the exhibit's features at a VIP event before taking a sledgehammer to Disasterville, the 10,000-square-foot exhibition that demonstrated what it's like to be in an earthquake, hurricane and other natural disasters. The new high-tech exhibition will replace it.
It will take up most of MOSI's current second floor, Kamm said, and the new exhibit will move with the museum.
Contact Sharon Kennedy Wynne at [email protected] Follow @SharonKWn.