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Tampa Bay History Center grows up and out, stays on track with $11M expansion

Tampa Bay History Center

Tampa Bay History Center expansion

Treasure seekers exhibit

Treasure seekers in pirate gallery

Pirate ship gallery

The Tampa Bay History Center is experiencing smooth sailing so far on an expansion project that will bring the area’s pirate lore to life.

“Knocking on wood, everything is going well,” says C.J. Roberts, History Center President and CEO.

Roberts says construction crews are slightly ahead of schedule on the building expansion that will house the new “Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates & Shipwrecks” gallery -- an addition that includes a 60-foot replica of a sailing vessel as its centerpiece and will focus on the stories of Florida’s early explorers.

As construction continues, the Pinellas Park-based Creative Arts is working to design the exhibits and a theatre company out of Boston is writing an “immersive pirate theatre experience” to complement the new gallery, which should be complete before the end of the year.

The expansion is just one part of an $11 million capital campaign, which Roberts says he is hopeful will be completed successfully in another year or so.

The goal of the capital campaign is to raise $5 million for the new gallery and maintenance on the existing structure, $5 million for the center’s endowment -- which funds about 25 percent of operating costs annually -- and $1 million for the new Florida Center for Cartography, a joint effort with the University of South Florida.

“We’ve raised $7.5 million dollars to date,” says Roberts.“We’ve got good wind in our sails, and I am optimistic that we’re going to be successful in completing this campaign.”

The full-size ship included in the gallery aims to provide an immersive experience that will help dispel some myths or misconceptions about pirates while providing a unique chance to learn about navigation, engineering and mathematics.

“These stories of early navigation and maritime exploration really lend themselves very well to pulling out those kinds of educational opportunities,” Roberts says.

Roberts hopes this expansion will broaden the center’s reach by telling stories that go beyond our backyard in the Bay Area.

“This is not a Tampa or Hillsborough story, as many of our other exhibits are,” he says. “This really is a Florida story.”

The Tampa Bay History Center’s expansion project is just one part of a period of exciting growth for the downtown area and Roberts is eager for the next chapter in Tampa’s story.

“We’re excited about the contribution this will make to an already growing downtown,” he says. “I think that we’re in a good place, and the future for both downtown Tampa and the history center looks pretty bright.”

Read more articles by Patrick Kelly.

Patrick Kelly is a writer and editor for 83 Degrees Media in the Tampa Bay region of Florida.
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