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How to build an art museum

The big things are still up in the air: What it will look like, how much it will cost, what might the building do for downtown, and will more people actually visit. But Thursday's selection of California's Stanley Saitowitz to design Tampa's new art museum marks both a real and symbolic step. After six years of debate, the city is closer to opening a facility that will change Tampa's look and feel. Just as important, museum leaders have come to recognize that the community has grown up and wants more from its cultural institutions. If the architect brings these lessons to the drawing board, the delays will have been worth it.

Saitowitz has a reputation for integrating his designs into their surroundings. That is a tall order for a city that chose to append a museum to a parking garage. But the waterfront site on Curtis Hixon Park has plenty of appeal to work with, provided the museum does what it can to preserve views of the Hillsborough River and passive use of the green space.

But more important, for now, than what Saitowitz proposes is the process to bring this latest design to fruition. The museum should open the design to public input, engage the mayor early on and be open to changes that give the facility fuller reach as a focal point. The museum may not need the mayor's approval. But given the millions of public dollars committed to the project, and the impact the museum will have for decades in shaping downtown's character, taxpayers have an interest in whatever stands. Then there are practical considerations. This project stalled for nearly six years because museum and city leaders could not agree on a design, cost or business plan.

Saitowitz's selection is a breakthrough if the city and the museum start fresh. The city needs to make its expectations clear up front, the museum needs to stay within budget and both sides need to remember the public has a stake in moving forward.