It's All About Kids At New Glazer Children's Museum, Downtown Tampa

Heidi Shimberg gestures at an empty corner overlooking Ashley Drive, pointing out where an airplane will go.

When it opens Sept. 25, the new Glazer Children's Museum in downtown Tampa will boast more than 170 exhibits designed to pique the imaginations of children ages 10 and younger.

The exhibits include a kid-sized model of Tampa Bay and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge complete with tiny ships and cargo; a media studio with TV cameras and sound effects; and interactive art such as a malleable sculpture made from foam tubes resembling pool noodles.

For now, though, a visitor's imagination must fill in the 12 themed galleries awaiting more than a few finishing touches. Workers assemble a mural on the first floor as Shimberg, the museum's VP of development and marketing, leads a behind-the-scenes preview with the enthusiasm of a first-time homeowner mentally arranging the furniture.
"It's scary and exciting," says Shimberg, who has been involved with the museum through its six-year development and 15-month construction. Mayor Pam Iorio offered the museum the lease on its new location, but at the time, "who knew there would be a beautiful park in front of us and a beautiful museum next door?"

The new museum, next to the new Tampa Museum of Art in a refurbished area of Ashley Drive now called Gasparilla Plaza, overlooks Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park. The hands-on exhibits make this another fun but educational spot for families like Tampa's MOSI, the Museum of Science and Technology; the Great Explorations Children's Museum in St. Petersburg; and G.Wiz: the Science Museum in Sarasota.
Shimberg said it cost $10.4 million to build and will have an estimated operating budget of $3.2 million. Architecture firm Gould Evans of Tampa in collaboration with Haizlip Studio of Memphis created the design. The construction team includes Tampa Bay region businesses Master Consulting Engineers Inc., WilsonMiller, Hahn Engineering Inc. and J.O. DeLotto and Sons, Inc.
The museum could have a $13 million annual economic impact on the Tampa community, according to the Americas for the Arts Economic Calculator. Shimberg estimates the facility will draw 190,000 to 230,000 annual visitors, about 20 percent from schools and another 20 percent from tourism.

Showcasing Innovation, Culture
The 53,000-square-feet building includes five classrooms, a stunning third-floor terrace, and 5,000 square feet for traveling exhibits. In its regular galleries, it pays homage to Kid City and Safety Village, the old Children's Museum that sat adjacent to the Lowry Park Zoo. Safety Village's lampposts and benches lead to a mini village with a health clinic, a grocery, a bank and a firehouse with a working siren and a pole for sliding.
Other exhibits are more innovative and tap into the area's rich history and culture. On the first floor, young visitors can dive into Kids Port, where they can unload cargo to learn how food "gets to Publix to my house so I can eat," Shimberg says. They also can captain a mock cruise ship and dig for treasure in rubberized recycled material on Gasparilla Island.
On the second floor, children can sit in an airplane cockpit and watch interactive aerial footage of the Tampa Bay region on a large monitor, a nod at the first commercial flight from Tampa to St. Petersburg in 1914. Once they "land," they can explore the kitchens of three households -- African, Latin and Asian -- in an exhibit called My House, Your House. Later, they can hook up plumbing and manipulate a crane in a mock construction site at Design + Build; conduct their own plays with lighting, sound and costumes in the Twinkle Stars Theater; and compare their height, strength and agility with other children in an area called Get Moving.
A showpiece linking the first and second floors is a 30-feet-high climbing structure called Water's Journey, where children can mimic a drop of water traveling from clouds to the aquifer and back. The exhibit is a network of 39 platforms supported by about 6 miles of cable. It's suspended from the ceiling around a stairwell. Parents will appreciate that they can see all the entry and exit points in the structure to identify where their child is while inside, Shimberg says.
Other parent-friendly touches in the museum include stroller parking near the exhibits and a safety policy banning adults unaccompanied by children.

Bringing The Parents Along
Make no mistake: Children are the main audience. The exhibits, developed by Haizlip Studio of Memphis and Sparks Exhibits of Orlando, are aimed at several ages. While older children maneuver through Kids Port, for instance, toddlers can play with the soft, tactile wheel and other controls of a 14-feet-long tugboat. Older children can scale a climbing wall while toddlers jump through hopscotch on lily pads. Meanwhile, the younger set can leave prints on a wall of pin art while older kids arrange movie clips, music and sound effects into a short film.
"They're creating their experience, so it's a different experience every time they come," Shimberg says.
She can imagine how they'll react. "I want to see the kids: laughing and screaming that they don't want to leave when we close," she says.
If you want to join in the fun, the Glazer Children's Museum, 110 W. Gasparilla Plaza on Ashley Drive in downtown Tampa, will be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, with extended hours during the summer and school breaks.
Admission will be free for children under 1 year old. Otherwise, admission will be $9.50 for children ages 12 and younger; $12.50 for military personnel and senior citizens; and $15 for adults.
Valerie Kalfrin is a Lutz-based freelance journalist and a mother to a nine-month-old boy who visited the Tampa Museum of Art during its grand opening and enjoys riding in the stroller in his sunglasses. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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