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New museum's costs are uncertain

That hasn't stopped Mayor Greco from raising financial support for it.

By JOHN BALZ

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 15, 2001


TAMPA -- Mayor Dick Greco has been spending a lot of time drumming up support for a $30-million arts center that he says will bring jobs, dollars and culture to Tampa. What he does not say is how much it will cost to operate.

That's because a study to calculate those figures won't be completed for about three months.

The city gives $800,000 to the existing Tampa Museum of Art every year and, although a new museum is likely to generate more revenue, there is no guarantee that will be enough to cover the costs of a larger museum.

Museum officials say not to worry, it's normal to start selling an idea before all the i's are dotted and t's crossed. There is plenty of time to figure out all the details. If approved, construction wouldn't even begin until 2003.

"We wouldn't be doing this if we weren't confident," said Renee Williams, the director of arts and cultural affairs for Tampa.

A bigger, bolder, better art museum is the crown jewel of Greco's vision for a "world class" Tampa. He would take about 60 percent of Community Investment Tax revenues over the next five years to pay for his vision. The museum would be asked to raise another $20-million for an endowment. The building would include about 26,000 square feet of additional space to showcase exhibits and a 350-seat auditorium for school and community groups to use for performances and lectures.

Less than 10 percent of a 4,500-piece collection is now on display, which is typical at most museums. But the new museum would expand gallery space to 40,000 square feet, nearly tripling the current space. And museum director Emily Kass says the additional room will allow the museum to bring in traveling collections from around the world. She recently had to turn down a Degas sculpture exhibit because it required twice the space she has available.

In addition, there are decaying parking structures, cracking tiles on the front plaza and overworked ventilation systems long overdue for an upgrade.

"We're completely out of space, and we've had seven renovations and additions, and it's just no longer economically productive to put more money into this building," Kass said.

But as of now, no one is saying exactly how much it will cost to maintain the additional gallery space and a 350-seat auditorium.

Kass says the operating costs of a new museum will be "significantly greater," but that the endowment would help cover them.

It takes about $2-million each year to run the museum. About $800,000 comes from the city and the rest from private donations, grants and gift shop revenues.

While the total price tag of the proposed museum is still being tabulated, the city has released a study of the economic impact that arts and cultural organizations already have on Tampa. The 92 groups have a collective impact of more than $400-million annually, according to the study, which was conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers. The Super Bowl, by comparison, is estimated to have brought in $250-million.

Williams says plans for the art museum are flexible. If for example, the study shows that operating expenses will be significantly higher than expected, portions of the new museum can be scaled back.

Greco's plans for the Tampa art museum, while ambitious, are certainly not unheard of.

Last year in Jacksonville, Mayor John Delaney pushed through his own inner-city revitalization program, which included moving the Jacksonville Museum of Modern Art to a five-story, 60,000-square-foot building in the heart of downtown.

At just over $2-million, the cost of a new Jacksonville museum was far less than the $30-million Greco is proposing. But Jane Craven, director of the Jacksonville museum, says the blueprint for convincing the community is similar.

"It takes a really strong mayor who appoints people who believe in strong growth and urban development," Craven said.

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