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Museum wing's rise rankles

Neighbors balk at the addition of walls and a partial roof that hide equipment.

By PAUL SWIDER
Published March 4, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG - As the addition of the Museum of Fine Arts starts to take shape, neighbors are finding it to be more than what was expected.

Museum officials, however, say they've tried to accommodate neighbors whose homes face the new structure.

Residents of the Cloisters condominiums along Beach Drive, across from the museum's new northern wing, say the building is larger than they were originally told.

Residents say they expected a two-story structure but are now seeing a three-story building that will block their views of Tampa Bay.

Ron Williams, the president of the Cloisters' condominium association, said residents are concerned that what they had been shown is not what is being built.

Williams declined to comment further, saying he is in conversation with the museum board and hopes to reach a resolution.

"It's fair to say there's been some miscommunication," Williams said. "I don't know what can be done. I'm not an architect. Right now, all we have is questions."

But museum director John Schloder said the project is proceeding as planned. He said he can understand neighbors' concerns but added that he's made every effort to inform them and had made appropriate adjustments to the $18-million project.

The controversy stems from meetings Schloder had last year with residents of several downtown buildings while he was planning the 33,000-square-foot addition. He showed residents an architect's conceptual drawing of a two-story building with mechanical equipment on the roof.

Schloder said some condo residents complained about having to look at the mechanical equipment on the roof of the existing museum, so he altered the plans to hide air conditioners and other equipment behind walls and under a partial roof.

"We thought we were doing a good thing by enclosing the equipment in walls," Schloder said.

Before seeking final city approval for the project, Schloder said he invited neighbors in April to another public meeting to show them the ultimate design: a two-story interior with a 45-foot-tall exterior. Schloder said four people came to the meeting. The city approved the plan in July with no citizen complaints and construction started earlier this year.

Williams said residents didn't think they needed to go to the April meeting because they'd just had a private showing, adding that the invitation made no indication the design had changed.

"People in this building love the museum," Williams said. "But any time you surprise someone, that's a problem. We thought we knew exactly what was going to be built."

Schloder said he can understand the confusion, but all he could do was offer to show his plans, which he did. He said he understands that residents whose condos are the same height of the new building are the most upset. "It's a very emotional subject," he said. "In a way, I'm sure they're angry at themselves because they didn't follow along."

Businesses along the corridor have expressed no concern over the new building.

The Downtown Business Association held a meeting in February, and no one complained about the museum, said Barry Rothstein, president of the association.

"I think the museum will help," Rothstein said. "It will be another downtown gem."

Bruce Watters, whose jewelry store is across from the museum, said people will complain whenever a new project is built on Beach Drive.

"I think it's great that this town can support a museum like that," Watters said. "It'll mean more business."

Schloder said the addition will take another year to complete and will allow the museum to show off collections now in storage.

The original 1965 building will undergo a $3-million renovation and, later, a southern wing may add 20,000 square feet, he said.

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.

[Last modified March 3, 2007, 19:50:37]


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