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    Supporters tuning plan for music museum

    The next step is a feasibility study of a proposed facility to honor musicians who have ties to Florida. Organizers would like to see it in Pinellas County.

    By ED QUIOCO

    © St. Petersburg Times, published November 8, 2000


    OLDSMAR -- As the mayor and president of the Chamber of Commerce, Jeff Sandler and Kevin Gartland have teamed up on any number of projects to benefit their hometown.

    But their next big thing might not have anything to do with Oldsmar at all.

    Sandler and Gartland are two-thirds of a local group that hopes to showcase memorabilia from hundreds of famous musicians who have ties to the Sunshine State in the Florida Music Hall of Fame.

    "It's huge," Sandler said. "We don't kid ourselves. It's a massive undertaking."

    The effort is the brainchild of Gartland, president of the Greater Oldsmar Chamber of Commerce, who got the idea after driving past signs for a similar facility in Georgia about three years ago.

    Gartland, Sandler and Kathy Rabon, executive director of Ruth Eckerd Hall's performing arts center foundation, created the non-profit Florida Music Hall of Fame Inc. about a year ago and are in the process of filing for federal non-profit status.

    Although two of the founding members have strong ties to Oldsmar, the effort is not associated with the city, the chamber or Ruth Eckerd Hall, they said.

    "This is purely something that I am doing as a volunteer and is not part of my professional life," Rabon said. "We are all doing it because we think it is worthwhile for Florida."

    The next major step for the group is to have a feasibility study done early next year to help determine some key details, such as where the facility would be located. Although the group hopes the location would be in Pinellas County, that depends on the study. At this early stage, they are not talking about the possible cost.

    The plan is to have the first handful of musicians inducted into the hall of fame before next summer and with any luck, have a facility in three to five years, Gartland said.

    "We want to preserve the music and we want to celebrate the music and we want to educate the kids of future generations about the contributions Floridians have made to music," Gartland said. "I wouldn't have even started on the path if I didn't think we could do this."

    The facility would showcase museum-style exhibits and performers's stage costumes, musical instruments, photographs and handwritten manuscripts, Gartland said. It could also have a theater that shows music videos and a small performance center with live music.

    "It's only limited by your imagination what you could have in there," Gartland said. "However it turns out, it will be fun."

    The hope is the facility will attract local residents, tourists and artists willing to loan their memorabilia.

    The state's Musuem of Florida History in Tallahassee has started a similar showcase. The exhibit of Florida's rock 'n' roll legends began in October and will move in July to Miami where it will conclude January 2002.

    The exhibit has more than 450 artifacts on loan from legendary musicians, said Wanda Richey, museum spokeswoman. People are often surprised to find out how many rock 'n' rollers have ties to Florida, whether they were born in the state, lived here or recorded their hits in Florida.

    The list includes Tom Petty, Ray Charles, Jimmy Buffett, Gloria Estefan, Sister Hazel, Creed, Jim Morrison, Lynyrd Skynyrd and KC and the Sunshine Band.

    "We wanted to give people some idea that so many people are from Florida who have made such an impact on the music industry," Richey said. "I would imagine all these artists would love to have good places, safe places to house memorabilia that they no longer use."

    The hall of fame will be different than the state exhibit because the local effort will include all genres of music, not just rock 'n' roll, Gartland said.

    The founding board is currently trying to expand its membership, which now includes St. Petersburg Times marketing manager Kerry O'Reilly. The Times is not associated with the hall of fame.

    The group hopes to tackle fundraising next year and use hall of fame inductions as possible ways of raising money and interest for the project. The inductions would feature exhibits that could be housed in a temporary location until the facility is built.

    "Initially, we are trying to build an organization from nothing, create a desire in a large group of people to participate in the organization's activities . . . and use that to create a ground swell of support," Sandler said.

    One of the reasons Rabon said she decided to join the effort is because it will be a challenge that could have some promising results.

    "I love start-up operations that have a big dream and are really possible," Rabon said. "We can do it. But it will take a lot of support and a lot of hard work and it will take a lot of dedication from a lot of people."

    - Staff writer Ed Quioco can be reached at (727) 445-4183 or at quioco@sptimes.com

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