Extreme Makeover: Downtown’s Art District

Have you ever wondered what the building was directly across from campus, on the Hillsborough river that so beautifully reflects the sunset and the glow of the minarets of Plant Hall at night?

Well, that is the Tampa Museum of Art and it only has a short time left until the City of Tampa decides to demolish to make way for the new Curtis Hixon Park which will include a new Art Museum and Children’s Museum.

For many this has been a long time coming, but others believe that the city is spending too much money and making a big mistake.

Over the past several years, residential complexes such as Skypoint and Element (still under construction) have been popping up in Tampa’s skyline. They have been built in an effort to draw people closer to the core of Tampa which is the downtown area.

Downtown Tampa is often referred to as a strictly business town, meaning people drive to Tampa for work in the day and at night they ride back home leaving downtown lonely and desolate and a far cry from the Big Apple.

The new residences will hopefully produce more of a “big city” feel in what Tampa calls their “Art District.”

This “Art District” extends from the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center to Kennedy and from the river bank to Tampa Avenue in downtown. Sadly, the only thing missing in this “Art District” is ART.

For years, St. Petersburg has dominated the “art life” with several different museums scattered through the city and now it is time for Tampa to join the ranks.

The Plan

Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio and the Museum Board of Trustees have been working on the reconstruction of the Tampa Art Museum and the surrounding area for many years. The Museum Board paid many architects to propose designs for the new park and museums.

The proposal chosen was articulated by Stanley Saitowitz, a world renowned architect. Saitowitz was born in Johannesburg, South Africa and came to the U.S. to study at Berkeley University in California where he teaches today.

The new museum will be a breath of fresh air as it sits elevated on the bank of the Hillsborough River. The museum will be a rectangular building sitting on top of pedestals. It is very contemporary and will be able to withstand the natural forces such as hurricanes, floods and lightning.

The new building will create more space for the current collection of modern fine art along with Greek, Roman and Etruscan art.

It will also allow for more space for traveling exhibits which the old building did not have.

The new park will also feature the New Children’s Museum which currently resides a few blocks from campus on North Boulevard.

The park and parking facilities will also undergo a multi-million dollar reconstruction.

Iorio and the Museum’s Board of Trustees have agreed to use a combination of city and private funds to undertake the multi-million dollar project.

The Problems

The plan so far seems like a no brainer, something Tampa should do, not only for the new residents of the “Art District” but for the Greater Tampa Bay Area.

However, the new plan requires the demolition of existing art museum and the parking and that does not sit well with these concerned citizens such as Neil Cosentino who has been fighting to save the museum since the plans have been in affect.

Cosentino expressed that the destruction of the existing museum and underground parking facilities, due to water leaks will cost in the upwards of $10 million.

Cosentino and other citizens that are trying to save the museum believe that paying the money for the art museum and parking facility to be destroyed is wasteful.

Cosentino believes that it can be fixed and the parking should remain as long as it helps bring in money for the city.

Plans will also call of the destruction of the Kiley Gardens which they plan to recreate in the new Curtis Hixon Park.

On the river next to the Sykes office building there is an amphitheater that will also be destroyed. Sadly, the only people that use the amphitheater are the homeless and skateboarders.

They believe that there is no reason why the existing museum could not be used for another museum.

Contrary to Cosentino, some citizens including Dorothy Cowden, Director of UT’s Scarfone Hartley Art Gallery are looking forward to the new museums and park.

“I think it’s a great idea, it is just taking too long,” Cowden said.

The only problem Cowden sees is that City of Tampa is trying to make everybody happy and that cant be done in any situation.

The Proposed Solutions

Cosentino has proposed that the University of Tampa buy the property so the university could use the museum and also parking for students and faculty. However, the university did not make any proposal to do so.

The most recent solution to the wasteful destruction of the existing museum is to use it for an African American Cultural Museum, which the area does not have.

The proposed solution for the homeless, in the amphitheater, is to create a homeless shelter.

What Lies Ahead

Currently, plans to begin the demolition and construction of the new museum and Curtis Hixon park should be under way shortly. The new museum and park are proposed to be finished by Fall 2009.

Neil Cosentino and other concerned citizens are still trying to stop the destruction of the museum.

The exhibits and artifacts of the Tampa Museum of Art have been moved to an interim location on 2306 North Howard Avenue.

Related Links Old museum’s website New museum’s website Neil Cosentino article

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