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Plans moving forward on St. Pete's Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement

ST. PETERSBURG — Yes, it's happening.

Construction of the $70 million Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement is expected to begin in January, according to Rudy Ciccarello, the businessman and collector who is building it with his own wealth.

In a news release Monday, he said that a contract has been signed with Gilbane Construction, an international firm that has experience in expanding and building museums. It will sit on 3.5 acres on Fourth Avenue N between Third and Fourth streets. Opening is scheduled for fall 2018. The plans are in the permitting phase with the city.

The start is later than expected. The original date was planned for early 2016, once the adjacent parking garage was completed in December. The delay is due to extensive design changes, especially the museum's size.

"It went from a 90,000-square-foot building to a 135,000-square-foot building," said Tom Magoulis, vice president of Ciccarello's foundation, Two Red Roses, which owns an extensive prestigious collection of furniture and objects from the American arts and crafts movement, which flourished in the early 20th century.

With the existing Dalí Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, and the incoming Tom and Mary James Museum of Western and Wildlife Art, planned to open in fall 2017, the city would have four major art museums.

For context on cost, the 133,600-square-foot James museum comes with a price tag of $55 million. Tom James, executive chairman of Raymond James Financial, has said he based his contributions on what it cost to build the Dalí Museum, which came in under $40 million.

These buildings take time, and the arts and crafts museum is no exception.

"The process took three years, which is a long time, but the project is that special," said Albert Alfonso of Alfonso Architects, who designed the five-floor building. "It could go in any major city in the country and stand next to their museums."

Renderings reflect the interior necessity of protecting art from too much exposure to light, meaning the floors housing the galleries, two through five, have few windows. Alfonso says that a main atrium space with skylight will provide public, non-art spaces with light inside while a bank of exterior glass panels lets in more light and lightens the granite exterior. Materials such as wood and bronze add warmth.

The architecture doesn't directly reference the arts and crafts movement in style — think Frank Lloyd Wright — but, as with the movement, the design puts an emphasis on simplicity, quality and workmanship.

Ciccarello, 68, has, according to many experts, the most important collection from the movement in private hands.

"I would say there's probably not a better private collection in the world," said Lynn Whitelaw, former director of the Leepa-Rattner Museum, who organized two exhibitions using the collection. "Rudy's a connoisseur. He has the knowledge, the eye and the resources to buy the very best."

Ciccarello, who lives in Tarpon Springs, founded a successful pharmaceutical distribution company and made hundreds of millions of dollars before retiring in 2013. He declines to say how much he has spent amassing his collection, which he began in the late 1990s. It now numbers around 2,000 pieces, including furniture, ceramics, metal works, lighting, tiles, fireplaces, fountains, even entire rooms. But all the big names are included: Stickley, Grueby, Rookwood and Van Erp, for example. He has paintings by early 20th century artists such as Arthur Wesley Dow and Childe Hassam. He has a collection of important early 20th century photographs. And he continues to collect when something rare or pertinent comes on the market.

The museum will also house a 100-seat auditorium, museum store, resource library, children's education center and gallery, banquet and special events room, a printing studio and darkroom for education purposes, and cafe. A separate destination restaurant will have a separate entrance. And a garden will display Ciccarello's collection of outdoor decorative pieces such as fountains.

The Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement will burnish the area's reputation as an arts destination. It joins the James museum as a rare breed of museums: self-funded.

Which is not to say that Ciccarello isn't seeking help. In the news release he wrote, "I would be happy to discuss ways in which support can be offered."

Contact Lennie Bennett at (727) 893-8293 or lbennett@tampabay.com.

Plans moving forward on St. Pete's Museum of the American Arts and Crafts Movement 11/14/16 [Last modified: Monday, November 14, 2016 8:54pm]
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