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St. Petersburg art museum to lose director


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 7, 2001

ST. PETERSBURG -- Museum of Fine Arts director Michael Milkovich, credited with building a permanent collection of American and European art and bringing in a string of successes in recent years, will retire in December.

"I want to spend time with my children and grandchildren, and to see more of my brother, who lives in Croatia," said Milkovich, 72.

Milkovich submitted a letter to board of trustees president Carol Upham on Monday, saying he hopes to leave in December, on the eve of his 20th anniversary.

"I didn't expect it, but I understand," said Upham. Milkovich completed chemotherapy for lymphoma several months ago. He said tests show no cancer, but he has been weakened by the illness. He and his wife, Valerie Leeds, are divorcing.

The museum, at 255 Beach Drive NE, is considered a cultural anchor in downtown St. Petersburg, drawing more than 150,000 visitors each year.

Milkovich's retirement comes at a watershed.

Leaders announced in May plans for an expansion of about 50,000 square feet. Those plans have been altered by almost half, and it will cost about $6-million, said Upham and Milkovich.

Upham has formed a search committee to look for a successor. Milkovich was paid $98,000 annually. He is only the third director in the museum's 36-year history.

Milkovich said he plans to stay in the area, perhaps consulting and writing.

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