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In a squeaker, museum raises $3.2-million

The city fears that if the pledges and guarantees from fundraising don't come in, the museum will default on its loan.

By JANET ZINK
Published March 23, 2005


TAMPA - With 48 hours remaining to secure a loan and settle conflicts with the city, the Tampa Museum of Art announced Tuesday that it had raised $3.2-million in less than one week, reaching a fundraising goal set by its lender.

"The buzz in our community about this race to the finish line inspired several existing pledges to up their pledge amounts and also brought out new supporters of the museum," wrote museum board president Cornelia Corbett in an e-mail to City Council members and the city staff.

Corbett has sent e-mails to city officials almost daily since Thursday, keeping them apprised of museum activities, including $1-million gifts received Monday and Tuesday.

Museum backers have raised more than $47-million to secure a loan from JPMorgan Chase for construction of a $76-million, 150,000-square-foot art museum designed as a showpiece for downtown Tampa.

"They have done a great job raising money," said city attorney David Smith. "I'm going to do all I can to make this happen, but we've got a lot of work to do."

The city remains concerned about what will happen if the museum defaults on its loan.

"They think they have raised their last amount of money today. What they're primarily getting is pledges and guarantees. It's not cash," Smith said. "If that money doesn't come in, there are going to be some problems. My job is to make sure the city doesn't end up holding the bag as it has on so many public projects."

The City Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing and vote on whether to spend more than $21-million of city money to help build the museum and $2-million a year for operating expenses.

Mayor Pam Iorio has said she will pull the plug on the $76-million project if museum officials can't secure a bank loan and satisfy questions she and her staff have by Thursday.

The deadline was set so the City Council can hold a public hearing March 31 and vote on whether to fund the museum. The council needs to vote that day so the bonds can be closed before the guaranteed construction cost of the museum expires April 11.

Iorio has said she doesn't want to give taxpayer money to the project unless she's certain the museum won't have to come back to the city and ask for more. The city has already spent about $6.7-million on architectural and consulting fees.

If the museum doesn't meet the Thursday deadline, Iorio said she'll go to the City Council on March 31 with her vision for a scaled-down project.

Janet Zink can be reached at 813 226-3401 or jzink@sptimes.com

[Last modified March 23, 2005, 00:54:07]


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