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Hillsborough pursues African American art museum

Commissioners authorize spending up to $500,000 over the next two years to plan the facility in West Tampa.
Hillsborough Commissioner Gwen Myers is advocating for a Hillsborough County African-American Art Museum & Cultural Center. She is shown during the June 16 commission meeting on HGTV.
Hillsborough Commissioner Gwen Myers is advocating for a Hillsborough County African-American Art Museum & Cultural Center. She is shown during the June 16 commission meeting on HGTV. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jun. 16
Updated Jun. 16

TAMPA — Hillsborough County wants to turn a neighborhood service center in West Tampa into an art museum and cultural center dedicated to the county’s Black residents.

“The African American community has so much rich history that we have not had the opportunity really to tell our story,” said Commissioner Gwen Myers. “Having this museum will allow us to tell our story.”

The rest of the commission agreed and voted unanimously to allocate $500,000 over the next two years for planning and architectural design work for the site at 2103 N. Rome Ave. The county-owned property is about six acres and comes equipped with utilities and parking spaces, Myers said.

Her plan also drew endorsements from state Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, and Santiago C. Corrada, president/CEO of Visit Tampa Bay.

“It’s particularly critical that now we should be inclusive of our recognition of the historical significance of African Americans in Hillsborough County and Tampa,” said Rouson, who noted the new state budget includes $30 million in federal stimulus money for matching grants for Florida’s African American museums.

Corrada touted the appeal of the proposed art museum and cultural center to visitors.

“This critical facility, this institution has been missing from our destination for far too long and we believe it would be a tourism asset,” he said.

A consultant’s report suggested the region could support a building of about 45,000 square feet — about the size of a typical Publix supermarket — that would draw 50,000 visitors annually and require a $1.7 million annual budget.

The museum should offer cultural exhibits, live events, classroom space and studios or learning labs to help serve as a pipeline for professional arts development, said the report from Amy Kaufman Cultural Planning of Brooklyn, N.Y.

The county received the study in late 2019, but didn’t act on the recommendations during the pandemic.

The study looked at 21 museums and cultural centers in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties and found they drew an average of 110,330 visitors annually with yearly budgets averaging $2.2 million. At the time of the study, the Museum of Science and Industry had the largest attendance and Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg had the largest budget.

The Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American History Museum in St. Petersburg, the region’s only dedicated African American Museum, reported an estimated 20,000 visitors per year and an operating budget of $100,000, according to the study.

Kaufman recommended several additional steps beyond site selection and architectural design including: Community engagement; recruiting sponsors or partners; begin program plans; devise a business model; form a non-profit agency for oversight and start early planning for a capital campaign.

“Creating a new institution is an unbelievably complex undertaking,” Kaufman told commissioners Wednesday.