Employees to lose jobs at art museum

Fourteen will be laid off during construction.

Published June 21, 2007

TAMPA - The Tampa Museum of Art will lay off nearly half of its employees when it closes its doors while a new building is under construction.

Interim museum director Ken Rollins said Wednesday that 17 of 31 employees will keep working in a temporary space in the Tampa Convention Center.

But there won't be any need for some museum store workers, front desk receptionists, maintenance workers and curatorial staffers, he said.

Rollins said he didn't know whether those people would get their jobs back when the new museum opens in 2009.

"That will be up to the new director, " he said.

The museum will close in the middle of the December so that the existing building can be demolished.

The art museum board on Wednesday unanimously approved temporarily relocating to a 6, 000-square-foot space next to the Tampa History Center. Educational programs and small exhibits will continue at the new site.

"We don't want to go dark and be in hibernation, " Rollins said. "We want to be active."

Fundraising criticized

In other business, board chairman Cornelia Corbett addressed public criticism of the museum's fundraising efforts and its plans to build the museum in stages if necessary.

Corbett said fundraising is going well, but "we're only going to build what we can afford to build."

The first phase of the project, a 68, 000-square-foot facility, will cost $32.5-million. The city is contributing $17-million, but art museum officials need to come up with the rest of the money through private donations.

Corbett said there should be no problem building the museum, but parts of it may have to go unfinished if the museum can't raised $15-million.

That means back office portions may have to wait to be completed or fewer galleries will be ready when doors open, said finance chairman Ray Ifert.

Board member Pete Hepner said architect Stanley Saitowitz's museum design, unveiled in May, has been "received very well by the general public. That's what matters."

Ifert said the capital campaign hasn't reached its goal, but the building design has been in hand only since May.

"We have enough to get started, " he said, but declined to reveal how much money has been raised so far.

Ifert said he expected momentum to pick up in September when the capital campaign goes public and after the groundbreaking for the new building.

Meanwhile, he said, the board is looking for someone to run the capital campaign, something Corbett has been doing in the absence of a designated leader.

"We really need somebody that can dedicate more time, " Ifert said.

So far, several people approached by museum officials have turned down the job.

"We still have candidates we haven't talked to, " Ifert said.

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