American Craftsman Museum proposed for Tampa's Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park

By Richard Danielson and Susan Thurston, Times Staff Writers

October 6, 2012

Tampa, FL -- An art collector from Palm Harbor is proposing to build a $31 million museum showcasing the American arts and crafts movement next to Tampa's premier riverfront park.

Rudy Ciccarello would arrange the financing to build the American Craftsman Museum at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, according to a 42-page proposal made public Friday. Ciccarello also proposes to pledge his own assets to provide collateral for a construction loan and to cover any shortfalls during construction.

In return, the nonprofit Two Red Roses Foundation, which Ciccarello started with gifts from his own collection, is asking the public to contribute $1 million a year for the first five years that the museum is open.

To Mayor Bob Buckhorn, it's "a small investment for a potentially very large positive impact for downtown."

"The risk and the burden is on the collector, not the public," Buckhorn said. "We wouldn't have gone forward with this if not for his willingness to personally fund the construction."

The museum would house a wide array of decorative objects from the 1900 to 1920 American arts and crafts movement - furniture, pottery, ceramic tiles, metal work, woodblocks, fine art, lighting, textiles and stained glass.

"A collection without comparison," said Tracy Kamerer, chief curator at the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, which exhibited some of the foundation's collection in 2009. "It's probably the best collection of arts and crafts in the world, and they're all museum-quality pieces, everything I've seen - and there's a lot of it I haven't seen."

As proposed, the museum would occupy a building of up to 75,000 square feet built on a narrow strip from Ashley Drive to the river, across the park lawn from the Tampa Museum of Art and Glazer Children's Museum. The 1.2 acres now house the park's restrooms and office.

The museum would share space with a 4,000-square-foot upscale restaurant that the proposal did not identify. The idea of putting a restaurant on the site goes back at least to Mayor Pam Iorio, who used to talk about a riverside restaurant accessible by foot or by boat.

"We have always said we need more waterfront dining on the Riverwalk," Buckhorn said. "We are a waterfront city, and we have very little waterfront dining. I wanted a restaurant incorporated into this museum to give people an additional reason to come downtown and stay downtown and activate the riverfront."

The museum would have a store on Ashley Drive and a welcome center where visitors could buy tickets for various museums.

Ciccarello, 66, founded Florida Infusion Services, a distributor of drugs and medical supplies to doctors, clinics and pharmacies with annual sales of $440 million.

He fell in love with a reproduction of an early 1900s bookcase by Gustav Stickley and in 1997 began buying authentic pieces from the arts and crafts style. After running out of space in his home, Ciccarello moved much of the 1,000-piece collection into storage in hopes of finding a permanent home for it in Tampa, according to an article last year in Antiques and the Arts.

This spring, Ciccarello and architects from Ybor City-based Alfonso Architects, which would design the museum, met with Buckhorn and his staff. The foundation was looking at sites around Tampa, but at that point had not narrowed its focus to Curtis Hixon Park.

The park made sense to Buckhorn, and in August the city issued a request for proposals from any developers interested in putting a museum and restaurant on the site. Two Red Roses was the only bidder.

As proposed, the museum would lease the land from the city for $1 a year for 99 years. If the city and the foundation can come to terms, the foundation expects that construction could begin in mid 2013, with the museum opening in the spring of 2015.

The $1 million in public funding for five years would not come until after the museum opened. The foundation also has asked for:

  • A waiver from having to pay any impact fees, as well as sewer, water and electrical hookup fees.

  • A similar waiver on property taxes for the life of the museum.

  • Demolition of the existing structures and preparation of the site at the city's expense.

  • City help acquiring a liquor license for the restaurant.

Buckhorn said he believes the proposed public subsidy is "on par" with support that other local museum and cultural arts institutions have received in the past.

"Considering that he's contemplating investing $30 million in a museum, that is small potatoes," he said.

In an email Friday, Two Red Roses Foundation executive director Tom Magoulis described the museum as "a very important project to the city of Tampa, surrounding communities and beyond."

While negotiations continue on key issues, including the land lease, Magoulis added that "we are hopeful that they will become finalized shortly."

Buckhorn agreed.

"The devil is always in the details, and we've got a lot of negotiating ahead of us, but I think this is a good day," he said. "This is a really good day for Tampa."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.