After 10 years in what was supposed to be a temporary location, Great Explorations _ The Hands-on Museum, is looking for a permanent home. A wonderful asset for St. Petersburg, the museum deserves a good location that will help attract visitors to its interactive science exhibitions. But the museum wants to build alongside the approach to The Pier, where the Doc Webb Senior Citizens Center once stood. That is not a good choice.
Great Explorations recently redefined its mission and settled on serving children up to 14 years old instead of aiming at everyone. It suffered a decline in attendance after last year's racial disturbances a few blocks from its current location in southern St. Petersburg. Street construction also hurt.
It's no surprise that museum officials see advantage in a site that would locate Great Explorations near the city's Museum of History and very close to The Pier, one of St. Petersburg's top tourist attractions. But the advantage of the draw of The Pier also is a detriment. Parking is limited near The Pier. Traffic can be a problem on busy days. Even patrons of the history museum and Apropos bistro, both of which sit at the beginning of the approach to The Pier, have to factor in a parking search as part of their visits.
Another consideration is the waterfront, a priceless natural resource that St. Petersburg has protected so that most of it remains open. Great Explorations is a worthy venture, but should it be allowed to take up a piece of the waterfront? City officials should review the whole eviction process they went through with the Senior Citizens Center in 1991. It took several years to move the center to a better location. Why is the city now willing to go to a fair amount of trouble to put in another group? Aren't there other spots downtown, but not on the waterfront, that would fill Great Explorations' needs?
Use of waterfront park property in St. Petersburg is set in the city charter. The site is limited to a 10-year lease, so voters would have to approve a referendum before Great Explorations could build on it. That would require the expense of a special election or a long wait until the next scheduled election. And previous to that, the St. Petersburg City Council would have to approve building the museum on the spot by a super majority vote.
Great Explorations deserves a prime location that will allow visitors easy access to it. And it certainly could benefit from proximity to other museums and city attractions. But the vacant spot on the approach to The Pier is the wrong place. Great Explorations should continue its search for a nearby site that can meet all its needs for a new home.