End near for effort to save museum

By JANET ZINK, Times Staff Writer
Published January 24, 2008

TAMPA - The construction fencing goes up Friday, and the now-vacant Tampa Museum of Art will be torn down soon after.

But a small group continues to lobby to save the building.

It declares the demise a "crime against the humanities" and, in e-mails to city officials, community leaders and reporters, labels those who support tearing down the museum "art barbarians."

"We're not against a new museum," said Neil Cosentino, a retired a Air Force pilot who waged the campaign to save the old Gandy Bridge for recreation as the Friendship Trail Bridge. "It's a matter of saving that building."

Cosentino, who said his group has about 15 people, said the building could be used as classroom, storage and office space for the new museum, set to be built on the north end of Curtis Hixon Park downtown. Cosentino also suggests using the building for a restaurant or to display African-American art.

Cosentino questions the city spending $15-million to demolish the museum and garage, slated to be completed in fall 2009, that makes money while using layoffs to cut the budget.

"All we want is an explanation," Cosentino said. "They're destroying public property without justification."

Steve Daignault, director of city public works, said the garage floods, and the museum has outlived its usefulness.

The building has been slated for demolition for nearly seven years, sinceofficials unveiled a plan for an arts district downtown.

The museum will be replaced with a renovated Curtis Hixon Park and a segment of the Riverwalk. A children's museum and art museum are slated for the park's north end.

Developer Hal Flowers, an art museum board member for 17 years, said the existing building is "functionally obsolescent."

I don't know why in the world anybody would want to preserve that," he said

Cosentino refuses to yield.

"You don't give up till it's all over," he said. "Till the fat lady sings."

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


Garage to close

Todayis the last day for parking at the Curtis Hixon parking garage beneath the recently vacated Tampa Museum of Art.