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At long last, events leading to the Chihuly Collection opening kick off with enthusiasm.

With an estimated 2,000 visitors attending the opening of the Morean Arts Center's new glassblowing studio on Central Avenue on Saturday, patrons and supporters were in a celebratory mood.

The turnout for the arts center's First Gather exceeded expectations.

Guests at the Fire & Ice Party that evening, held in the new studio of St. Petersburg glass artist Duncan McClellan, were exuberant as they launched a week's worth of events leading to the grand opening of the Chihuly Collection. What a difference a year makes.

Financial downturns posed considerable challenges for the Morean, which went back to the drawing board numerous times to secure its own viability and to bring the works of internationally known glass artist Dale Chihuly to a museum-quality gallery at 400 Beach Drive NE. That opens to private donors Friday and Saturday, and to the public on Sunday.

Larry Parkin, chairman of the Morean's board of trustees, praised executive director Katee Tully and others for their tenacity in bringing the project to fruition.

Beth Morean, the benefactor for whom the arts center is named, was equally effusive. "The Chihuly Collection will make us self-sustaining," she said.

The Fire & Ice Party, held indoors and outdoors at McClellan's new, 7,800-square-foot studio on Emerson Avenue S, was a showcase for his works as well as a private party for donors, sponsors and VIP guests.