Educational center may get manager
By JON WILSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 21, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- A center where visitors could learn about Pinellas County's original American Indian residents is on track: A manager for it could be hired this week.
And those worried the site might be too big for the delicate and carefully tended Weedon Island Preserve can quit fretting.
It won't be 100,000 square feet, a presence of enough magnitude to alarm some Weedon devotees when it emerged as a possibility last year.
The educational center's size is still to be decided.
"The real driving force is deciding what goes inside," said Craig Huegel, a county environmental administrator who oversees Weedon Island in far northeast St. Petersburg.
"It certainly won't be 100,000 square feet. But it may be a two-story building. How many square feet I have no idea," Huegel said.
Planners envision the center as a quality resource not intended to draw multitudes, but to attract people with a serious interest in the everyday life of Pinellas' first human inhabitants.
It would probably offer classrooms, research opportunities and exhibits -- some of which could come from the Smithsonian Institution, which has artifacts from a celebrated 1920s archaeological dig on the island.
The dig, initially generated by a publicity-seeking real estate developer's hoax, unearthed a wealth of information about the area's pre-Columbian Indians, known as Timucuans.
The discoveries were important enough to warrant a special designation. Scholars refer to the American Indian civilization recorded here, and in other parts of Florida, as the Weeden Culture. (The archaeologist in charge misspelled the site's name.)
"We have been talking to the Smithsonian, hoping we could have some cool things to allow everybody to have some appreciation of the Weeden Culture," Huegel said.
"We would like to look at (the American Indians) as people instead of things. These people had the same issues as we do. Getting food, raising kids, getting housing," Huegel said.
The center's progress will depend on how the county decides to juggle its capital improvement programs supported by the special Penny for Pinellas tax.
So even though a manager is being hired and may arrive as early as next month, it could be some time before the center actually is built and opened. One of the manager's first jobs will be to begin the process of finding an architect.
"It's way too early to speculate about when the center might be here," Huegel said.
"My guess is we're looking at three years, if not four or five."
Here's something for classic car buffs: A Buick Skylark show takes place today at The Pier in downtown St. Petersburg. You can check it out between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
And the SuperPierFest, which includes a Corvette show, games, music and a ton of roving entertainment starts Thursday and lasts through Jan. 28.
It's all tied in with the Supper Bowl. No, I'm sorry, the Super Bowl. You know. That pro-football game a couple of teams are playing in Tampa on Jan. 28.
But speaking of supper, don't eat it early this Friday. Lighten up, and you can run the Saucony Super Run 5K Race along the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront.
Race time is 6 p.m. It starts and ends at BayWalk, 121 Second Ave. N. Call 424-4052 for information.
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