The Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame board unanimously voted Wednesday to go with negotiations with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and allow the museum to be moved to Tropicana Field.
The approval means the museum's eight-member board has authorized museum executive director Dave McCarthy and board member Gerald Nash to have full discretion to make any necessary decisions to "move as much as the entire museum," said the museum's attorney, Eric Abel.
"Dad would be saddened to see the attendance decrease like it has," said Claudia Williams, who is also a member of the museum's board. "If we can go to an area where the population is greater and the attendance is higher, then let's go. It's a win-win."
As previously reported by the St. Petersburg Times this week, the museum is expected to move some of its collection to Tropicana Field, with an official announcement today. Rays president Matt Silverman, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and McCarthy and Nash are expected to elaborate during a 4 p.m. news conference at Tropicana Field.
Even if that is not announced, it seems inevitable and only a matter of time.
"It (Tropicana Field) could house the whole museum without a problem," McCarthy said.
McCarthy said the permanent exhibit will be housed near the Devil Rays' fan shop close to the rotunda entrance. The goal, McCarthy said, is to then include the rest of the museum in an approximately 7,000-square-foot space on the second level that would remain open even when baseball is out of season.
"It was certainly a goal of my father to help as many kids as he could, through donations that were raised by the museum," Williams said. "It's only going to be improved by the increased attendance in Tampa and St. Petersburg. You can't go wrong."
The museum board would continue to operate and run its scholarship foundation, McCarthy said, while the Devil Rays would be the "caretakers of the collection."
"There's no buying of the collection," McCarthy said. "It's not for sale. We're a charity and they are going to house the collection, possibly rent free.
"It's like an automobile. It doesn't matter where you park it, it's still your car," he said.
The goal, McCarthy said, is to raise more money to give out more scholarships. The museum currently offers five scholarships to Citrus County students and an additional five in Boston, but it would like to increase the total to 20, McCarthy said.
Williams said she'd like to see the museum focus more on her father's accomplishments outside of baseball, such as his military service and fishing achievements.
"It would be a wonderful thing for me, and my father's legacy for people to be more educated about what he did other than baseball," Williams said. "My father is an example of a man that when he put his mind to something he'd get it done, and he did it really well."
The museum opened in 1994 near Williams' home in Citrus Hills. A blockbuster opening drew celebrities such as Muhammad Ali, Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. The annual induction ceremonies for the Hitters Hall of Fame brought a parade of baseball stars both young and old.
But since Williams' death in 2002, the museum has increasingly had trouble attracting visitors and big-name guests on a regular basis. The museum's location is an issue, with its less than favorable distance to a metropolitan area and airport. An increasing number of events have been held off site, including the relocation of the annual Hitters Hall of Fame induction ceremonies to Fort Myers.
As previously reported in the Times in July 2004, the museum did not receive an endowment or any money from Williams' estate. Instead, Williams donated items before his death. The combination of those items and public donations have made the museum worth several million dollars, although the assessed property value is $1.3-million, according to the county's property appraiser.
Dawn Reiss can be reached at (352) 860-7303 or firstname.lastname@example.org.