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Pinellas suggests move for museum

The Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History may be moving _ that is if its board of trustees goes along with an idea to relocate the facility to nearby Philippe Park.

Because Philippe Park is county-run, the museum would be operated under the auspices of Pinellas County and not Safety Harbor, as it has for years.

In a back room of the museum Tuesday night, Mayor Pam Corbino and Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel sat at the head of a meeting table with more than a dozen board members and museum supporters listening attentively.

"We're just trying to do a better job with all the assets we have," Seel told the group.

The county is looking at the Safety Harbor museum as another leisure option to which it can point.

But it's still early.

"There is no game plan at this point," Seel said. "This is not a county-driven process at all _ it's simply an idea, and we want to see if there is any interest."

There is.

"I think it's an exciting concept to talk about," said museum board president Mark Hildebrand.

"It's a good fit that will mean more (visitor) traffic," he added.

Current discussions do not address where the money would come from for a museum building at the park.

The idea, which first came up about four years ago, resurfaced during a recent conversation between Seel and Corbino.

When asked if she viewed this proposal as a way for the city to wash its hands of the museum and its past problems, Corbino dismissed the notion.

"It's just a wonderful avenue to go down and a big plus for Safety Harbor," Corbino said. "This opens more doors for people to support this more financially."

About 6,000 visitors went to the museum last year to see artifacts and exhibits on the native Tocobago tribe that once populated the area. Pottery, arrowheads and tools are on display, as well as exhibits on some of the city's pioneers and local families.

Seel sees the museum tapping into the 450,000 people who visit Philippe Park annually.

The city owns the land and the museum building at 329 Bayshore Blvd. S. and charges $1 per year in rent. Recently, city commissioners agreed to renew the museum's lease for another 20 years.

But not everyone likes the idea to move the museum down the road.

"I don't think that's necessary," said Patrick Whelan, a museum supporter who attended the meeting. "The change needed is for the museum to stand on its own, with business leaders on the board to go after funds _ not to try to dump this thing off on the residents in the county."

Last summer, the museum experienced turmoil when its former director reported the facility was in financial trouble and needed help. This prompted the museum to ask the city for $40,000 _ 40 percent of its operating budget _ to keep the museum's doors open.

Concerned about the possibility that money was misused, the city postponed the museum's request for money and called for an audit of its funds.

Last September, the results of the audit showed no problems with the way the organization had handled money in the past year, clearing the way for the city to grant the museum $40,000 to help with operating costs.

A work session with city commissioners and museum officials to consider the grant request is scheduled for Monday.

_ Leon M. Tucker can be reached at 445-4167 or tuckersptimes.com.

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