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Foundation Offers to Build Downtown Museum, Restaurant

By Kevin Wiatrowski, The Tampa Tribune

October 6, 2012

Tampa, FL -- A Palm Harbor foundation specializing in the early 20th Century Arts and Crafts movement may become the next cultural attraction for downtown Tampa.

The Two Red Roses Foundation has offered to build a museum and waterfront restaurant along the southern edge of Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. The proposal was in response to Mayor Bob Buckhorn's call for proposals on how to use the 1.2 acre strip along the southern edge of the park.

The site now hosts public restrooms and a pair of low-slung buildings that serve as an informal office for park staff. Those buildings would be demolished to build the proposed American Craftsman Museum.

The prospect of a restaurant overlooking the Hillsborough River fulfills one of Buckhorn's long-term goals for bringing more visitors to both the park and Riverwalk.

"The addition of this museum and restaurant will bring the downtown experience to the next level," Buckhorn said in announcing the deal.

But, he added, much remains to be settled. "We have a long way to go before we have an agreement," Buckhorn said.

That foundation President Rudy Ciccarello has offered to build the $31 million American Craftsman Museum with his own money is a big plus, Buckhorn said.

Ciccarello's collection of furniture, ceramics and fine art created during the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th Century includes works by Tiffany, Roycroft and Stickley.

The movement coincided with Tampa's first big building boom in the 1920s. It produced the sought-after restored houses and bungalows that are signatures of the Hyde Park and Seminole Heights neighborhoods.

In its latest tax filing, the foundation valued the collection at $34.8 million. The collection was gathered for lending to museums, the foundation said.

The new museum could give the collection its own home and make Tampa a national destination for fans of the Arts and Crafts movement, said Christine Burdick, president of the Tampa Downtown Partnership. "It's a niche, but it's a part of our cultural history," Burdick said.

Ciccarello didn't respond to calls for comment on Friday.

Ciccarello's plans for the museum call for a 75,000-square-foot building. About 5 percent would be dedicated to a museum.

The museum will sit on 1.2 acres leased from the city for $1 a year. It's a deal similar to the one that led to the construction of the Glazer Children's Museum at the park's northeast corner.

If the proposal wins approval from the city council, earthwork could start as early as next October. The museum would open in April 2015, according to the foundation's proposed timeline.

As part of the proposal, Ciccarello has asked the city to give his museum $1 million a year for its first five years. That's about a quarter of what the city gives all 30 local nonprofits it supports.

Buckhorn said this could be a worthwhile, short-term investment in bringing more life to downtown.

"It's less about what's in the museum than it is about the critical mass and synergy that will bring people downtown to Curtis Hixon," Buckhorn said.

Ciccarello's original pitch to the city also called for $500,000 a year from the city and the same amount from Hillsborough County to fund the museum's daily operations after it's up and running. Buckhorn said that will be a topic of further discussion.

Foundation officials say the museum will incorporate a tourist kiosk for the Tampa Chamber of Commerce and offices for the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

But the restaurant is where the project truly intersects with the vision Buckhorn has for the Riverwalk.

He signed a deal last year with the owners of Ybor City's Columbia Restaurant to open a chophouse-style restaurant in Water Works Park at Riverwalk's northern terminus.

Work has yet to begin on the restaurant.