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Plan for grand St. Petersburg Museum is an eye-opener

By Daniel Ruth, Times Columnist

July 3, 2014

A grouping of 4 hand-decorated vases from the Marblehead Pottery of Marblehead Massachusetts from the collection of the Two Red Roses Foundation

A grouping of 4 hand-decorated vases from the Marblehead Pottery of Marblehead Massachusetts from the collection of the Two Red Roses Foundation.

Tampa, FL -- On this much we can all probably agree. Rudy Ciccarello appears to be a man willing to put his money where his museum is - or will be.

In St. Petersburg's cultural life this could be as big as big can get. Perhaps even bigger.

Ciccarello, a little-known but very affluent entrepreneur who lives in Tarpon Springs, has announced plans to develop a new museum to honor the American Arts and Crafts movement. This is not going to be some quaint little boutique on Central Avenue. Rather, the new museum, scheduled to open around 2017, will be a 110,000-square-foot, $35 million structure on 3.5 acres near the Synovus Bank site between Third and Fourth streets N.

How big is this? Let's put it this way, at 110,000 square feet, the new museum would make the Dalí Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Tampa Museum of Art look like street corner roadside attractions selling velvet Elvis portraits.

Normally a cultural project this size would require endless public meetings, a lobbying campaign to acquire local bed tax monies, and all manner of nitpicky political infighting.

But no. While Ciccarello wouldn't turn his nose up at getting some bed tax cash, he plans to go ahead and just build the whole thing himself, proving that clearly he would be an utter failure as a professional sports team owner glomming on to public dollars to pay for his stadium.

And it gets even more surreal, even by Dalí standards. Ciccarello has absolutely no interest in planting his name on the new museum, which demonstrates that there is absolutely no blood lineage to anyone named Patel in these parts.

Could this be a case of civic philanthropy at its most ideal? A well-to-do man with a love for American Arts and Crafts makes a decision to share that passion with the rest of his community on his own dime and asks for nothing in return except for the public to take advantage of his artistic gift.

Of course, a project this ambitious can always get bogged down with red tape, egos and frustration. And Ciccarello could always lose interest. But for now, at least, a man willing to part with so much of his money certainly ought to be encouraged.

St. Petersburg is a unique place. At a recent forum to discuss where the city's priorities ought to be directed, promoting the arts was foremost on the minds of many residents. In Tampa, the same discussion might well have turned to extending saloon closing times to 24 hours a day. G-strings optional.

Unless you were an art history major, chances are you have little knowledge of just what the American Arts and Crafts movement is all about. But isn't that the whole idea of any museum, to serve as a source of enlightenment and education? And cultural appreciation, too.

Considering the graciousness of Rudy Ciccarello, since he doesn't want his name on such a lavish addition to St. Petersburg's arts scene, there must be some way to recognize his generosity. Memo to St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman: Can you please, please, please sell the Pier to Ciccarello for $1 to do with as he pleases, thereby earning the eternal appreciation of a community? It's just a suggestion.