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Channelside Pioneer
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Let's hope for less drama than the Museum of Art....

Architectural firms submit plans for history museum
Supporters of the new center feel their project is on stronger financial ground than that of the failed art museum.
By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
Published April 30, 2005


TAMPA - Downtown's other museum project, the Tampa Bay History Center, moved closer to breaking ground and pouring concrete Friday as four architectural firms made their pitches for the $14-million project.

During lengthy presentations at Hillsborough County Center, the finalists offered glimpses into how their backgrounds and philosophies would shape a design for the long-awaited museum at Seddon Channel behind the St. Pete Times Forum.

Members of the five-person selection committee said a decision could come as soon as May 9, after they review the firms' presentations and references.

The center hopes to open a 60,000-square-foot museum in 2008.

Only one finalist, the Tampa office of HOK architects, offered a specific, if preliminary, concept for the building.

"I thought all four were exciting," said Hillsborough County real estate director Mike Kelly, the committee chairman. "What's really impressive is all had done research on the history and all were very motivated about getting the project."

The upbeat atmosphere contrasted with the somber mood that prevailed a month ago after the deal for a $76-million art museum fell through. Backers failed to secure the private funds needed to guarantee a loan for the project. Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio this week proposed creating an arts corridor along Zack Street, possibly converting the old federal courthouse into the new museum site.

History center backers feel their project is on stronger fiscal ground than the defeated art museum proposal. Center director Rob Blount said the history center project now has pledges of $13-million, which is $2-million above what supporters needed to obtain $17-million in construction funds from the county.

Despite receiving the $17-million, the project architect will have only a $14-million budget to play with, selections committee members said. The remaining $3-million will be set aside for cost overruns, a distinct possibility considering the recent jumps in construction costs, Blount said.

The finalists boast varying levels of museum experience, though all spouted lofty statements about creating a space that has visual impact and tells the story of Tampa Bay in a compelling way.

The firms praised the 2.5-acre site for its visibility along the water across from Harbour Island, adding that it will complement Iorio's proposed Riverwalk and other developments in Channelside.

"The site just holds enormous potential," said Greg Wehling, architect with RBK Architects.

The four contenders:

E. Verner Johnson and Associates of Boston has worked on more than 200 projects, including the Texas State Museum in Austin and the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine.

Firm partner Bradley Nederhoff touted the company's experience, saying it has focused solely on museums since the 1970s.

Alfonso Architects is one of two local firms in the mix. The firm, which designed the new airside at Tampa International Airport, prides itself on being able to build in multiple styles, the firm's president, Albert Alfonso, said. Several selection committee members said they found the firm's style "edgier" than the other finalists'.

Alfonso emphasized Tampa Bay's immigrant history and his hometown connections. The son of a Cuban father, he displayed pictures of his family relaxing by the Hillsborough River, as well as a third-grade student council photo with him standing next to a young Pam Iorio. "Your building must be the community storyteller," he said.

HOK is a global firm that designed the Capital One Renaissance Park project in Tampa, and an expansion and renovation of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art in Sarasota. They offered the most specific preliminary idea of what they might do if awarded the contract.

Senior vice president Yann Weymouth unveiled an idea for a highly symbolic building on newly established bay estuary created by removing a section of seawall and replanting the natural shoreline. Playing off of Florida's place as an initial contact point between the Old and New Worlds, the design features cone-shaped glass piercing a box-like building. Weymouth said visitors could enter the complex over a series of old-style bridges.

"This building needs to be memorable, a little bit different," he said.

RBK designed the new addition to the Museum of Science and Industry near the University of South Florida, and has an in-house computer graphics studio. It emphasized the technological side. Technology not only appeals to younger visitors, but also would let the museum quickly change unpopular exhibits, principal architect Chris Bell said.

All of the finalists said they could design a museum to fit the $14-million budget.

The history center hopes to raise another $7-million as part of a $20-million endowment fund to support museum operations. Under the terms of its arrangement with the Hillsborough County Commission, the county will oversee construction and the center will manage the museum.

"We're going to bring this project within budget," Kelly, the committee chairman, said.

Josh Zimmer can be reached at 813 269-5314 or [email protected]

4,422 Posts
Out-of-state firm chosen to build history center
Work could begin this fall on the proposed $17-million museum, which is scheduled to open in 2008.
By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
Published May 10, 2005


TAMPA - An out-of-state firm Monday was tagged to build the $17-million Tampa Bay History Center.

A five-member review committee made E. Verner Johnson and Associates of Boston the clear choice among four finalists, two of them local companies.

Members cited the firm's experience and ability to build its projects within budget.

"I think when we spend taxpayer money we need a safe choice," History Center president Rob Blount said, noting that E. Verner Johnson knows how to design a museum that will make visitors want to come back.

After years of planning and fundraising, the project appears headed on a fast track, a sharp contrast to delays facing efforts for a new Tampa Museum of Art.

The county hopes to negotiate a contract with E. Verner Johnson by next month, and present it to the County Commission for approval in July, project director Bill Hand said.

The project, slated for a 2.5-acre site behind the St. Pete Times Forum on Garrison Channel, is under a tight budget.

The commission last year put $17-million toward the museum, but $3-million is for engineering the building. That leaves $14-million for construction and architectural fees.

Blount said site work on the proposed 60,000-square-foot building could begin this fall. It is scheduled to open in 2008.

Critics say the county shouldn't be spending community investment tax money on such high-profile projects, and that supporters should have looked more closely at moving from the Tampa Convention Center to the old federal courthouse on Florida Avenue.

The city of Tampa, under prodding by Mayor Pam Iorio, might use the courthouse for the new art museum.

The review committee heard pitches from the four finalists on April 29, after whittling down a list of proposals from 10 architectural firms.

The finalists were Alfonso Architects of Tampa, RBK Architects of Tampa, HOK and E. Verner Johnson, which got top ranking in the first round.

Experience weighed heavily in the final choice, members said. Unlike the other candidates, E. Verner Johnson has been designing museums exclusively since the mid-1970s, and employs a full-time museum expert. Its history centers projects include the Texas State Museum in Austin, the Tubman African American Museum in Macon, Ga., and the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine.

Firm representatives could not be reached for comment.

Eric Kreher, who works with Alfonso Architects, the designer of the new airside at Tampa International Airport, said he is disappointed Alfonso didn't get the contract.

The history center would be better off with local architects, he said.

"You have a better understanding of what the site is like, what the client is all about," he said. "It would have been an excellent project to have."

--Josh Zimmer can be reached at 813 269-5314 or [email protected]
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