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Tampa Bay History Center unveils $11 million expansion

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Officials with the Tampa Bay History Center announced Wednesday that the eight-year-old Channelside-based museum will soon undergo an 8,500-square-foot expansion that will include a 60-foot replica sailing vessel and a new center for cartographic education that will hold more than 6,000 maps dating back to the New World.

Construction on the $11 million expansion begins next month, with completion scheduled to be completed by next fall.

“The vision of expanding the facility (began) when we opened eight years ago,” said Steve Raney, chairman of the the board of trustees of the Tampa Bay History Center. “The only question was: when would we move forward?”

Raney said that museum board members have always maintained that they would not expand until they were financially sound enough to do so, and he says that time is now. Half of the $11 million needed for the expansion plans has already been collected, he said, with one-third of that amount scheduled to come from public sources, and the other two-thirds coming from the private sector.

The museum has grown in popularity since its January of 2009 opening, with more than 100,000 people visitors in 2015.

The major component of the expansion is the new “Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates & Shipwrecks” gallery on the third floor that will emphasize the explorers who landed in Florida more than 500 years ago, and the pirates who wreaked havoc along the state’s costs in the 17th and 18th centuries. The expansion also includes the 1,400-square-foot Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education in partnership with USF, the only research library of its kind in the Southeast, and one of only a handful in the U.S. (a fact that was repeated on several occasions).

“We’re just thrilled to have an impact on downtown Tampa,” said USF President Judy Genshaft, referring to the multi-year collaboration between the university and the history center, as well as the school’s growing presence downtown after the Morsani College of Medicine and USF Health Heart Institute are built as part developer Jeff Vinik’s master plan in Channelside. “We’re just proud to be playing a part in such a transformational change to our whole region, and what the history center is doing is amazing.”

Rodney Kite-Powell, curator of the center, gave attendees at Wednesday’s press conference a sneak preview of some of the new artifacts will be on display, including coins used for trading in the Caribbean, a ship’s bell, iron cannons, pottery, an armada chest and exotic items such as lice combs.

Spokesman Manny Leto says that there will be some minor temporary gallery closures on the second floor as construction progresses, but that the museum’s doors will remain open throughout the year.

History Center President and CEO C.J. Roberts says the expansion should increase the average attendee’s visit from two to three hours.

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Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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