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Lack of funding kills new museum

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said she's ready to proceed with alternative plans for a new art museum.

By JANET ZINK
Published March 29, 2005


TAMPA - Years of campaigning, millions of dollars and the drawings of a renowned architect went into the city hall shredder this week as plans for a new $76-million Museum of Art broke down over money matters.

After encountering an "insurmountable stumbling block" in the financial arrangements, musseum officials on Tuesday told city leaders the deal was officially dead.

"It's a sad day," said Cornelia Corbett, chairwoman of the museum's board of trustees. "But it is what it is. We've got to move on."

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio said Tuesday she's ready to proceed with alternative plans for a new art museum and hopes to meet as soon as next week with a group assembled to guide the process.

"We're going to develop a plan that's good for Tampa for the long term," she said. "It will be built in an affordable way with monies on hand."

JPMorgan Chase, the museum's bank, wanted the donors who had agreed to guarantee payments on a $38.7-million construction loan to assume more risk than they expected, Corbett said.

When they agreed to back the loan, she said, they believed their money would be collected in small amounts from 18 people to cover payments if the museum didn't make enough to cover its obligation.

Instead, the bank wanted the option of collecting all the guaranteed money if the museum defaulted on its loan.

JPMorgan Chase also wanted museum supporters, who have already raised $47-million for construction of a museum, to come up with another $25-million in pledges in the next three years. Otherwise, it would be considered a default of the loan and the guarantors would have to pay up.

The guarantors refused to accept the bank's terms, killing the deal.

"It was not fair to be asking them to sign something they were not solicited to do," Corbett said.

JPMorgan wanted individuals to back the construction loan because Iorio said the city wouldn't.

Under Mayor Dick Greco, the city committed $30-million to build the museum and $2-million a year to run it. When Iorio took office in 2003, she said she didn't want to go ahead with the plans until she was sure no more taxpayer money would be needed.

Her delay of a planned 2003 groundbreaking raised the cost of building the museum by $10-million because of rising prices for concrete and steel worldwide.

The city has already spent $6.7-million on architectural fees for a design for the museum by famed New York architect Rafael Vinoly.

It was meant to be a showpiece for downtown Tampa. And the city is already paying $2-million a year on debt service for $30-million borrowed through a bond issued in 2001 for construction of the new museum.

Iorio said she wants the plan to take a "holistic" approach that incorporates other projects on the site, including a redesign of Ashley Drive, a city park, the Children's Museum and a Riverwalk.

"We also need to focus on the collection and we need to focus on endowment," Iorio said.

She pointed out that backers of the planned history museum had to come up with $11-million endowment before receiving city land and county money for their project.

The Tampa Museum of Art has only a $2-million endowment.

"We have got to focus on this issue as we move forward. It can't be building, building, building," she said.

Iorio said when she first became mayor and inherited the museum project, she was told it would have a $20-million endowment by the time the new facility opened.

"There was no movement in that direction," she said. "All the emphasis has been on capital for construction."

The Vinoly design was more than 150,000-square-feet, triple the size of the current museum. Iorio said she wants to start with a smaller facility, one that can be expanded in phases.

She said she will find a quality architect, but the building doesn't need to be expensive to be a showpiece. She will develop a budget first and ask the architect to design a museum that can be built and run within that budget.

"That's the way projects ought to be done," she said.

City and museum officials said they hoped the entire community, including champions of the Vinoly design, would work together on a new project.

Two museum board members, Sandy MacKinnon and Don Wallace, have already agreed to be part of her team, Iorio said. She's also enlisted the help of developer Al Austin.

"It's been an emotional ride," MacKinnon said. "There are people who are very much heartbroken about this whole thing. I hope that we can still count on those people to be supportive. We need a new art museum. That's the bottom line."

He said he understands the mayor's concern about building a facility that would turn into a drain on the taxpayers.

"The city has experienced in the past projects that everyone says, "Oh it's wonderful. Let's go,' and then they're standing on the mayor's front porch with a tin cup," MacKinnon said. "The mayor doesn't want anyone on the front porch with a tin cup. She's practicing fiscal responsibility."

City Council members met late Tuesday for a briefing on the status of the museum.

Instead, city finance director Bonnie Wise told them the project had collapsed.

"It's disappointing," said councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena with tears in her eyes. "So many people have worked so hard."

The good news, she said, is that the community and the city realize Tampa needs a new museum.

"I'm hoping we will forge ahead and lose as little momentum as possible," she said.

Councilman Kevin White said he hoped the people who donated to the Vinoly concept will remain receptive to a new idea. He worried they would be "gun-shy" after hearing that promises made by Greco had been dashed by Iorio.

"The change of administration was one of the key factors to the detriment of this project," he said. "If Greco were mayor I'm sure the museum would be three-fourths of the way finished if not complete."

Corbett said she wants to work with the mayor, and the money she personally pledged to the project remains earmarked for a new museum.

"That would be a wonderful situation if everybody stayed in, but I don't think it's realistic," she said. "There were several donors who felt very strongly about the Vinoly design. Hopefully we'll be able to keep everybody together.'

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

[Last modified March 29, 2005, 22:31:49]


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