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Skanska USA Begins Sculpting Tampa Art Museum

Fri July 04, 2008 - Southeast Edition
Jeff Brooks

It’s been almost 10 years since then-mayor Dick Greco first proposed a new Tampa Museum of Art. The long wait, which was marked by political squabbles and financial issues, finally ended April 18 at the groundbreaking ceremony for the 66,000-sq.-ft. museum in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

“We’re just terribly excited and pleased,” said Ken Rollins, interim museum director.

For several years, it appeared the museum would never come out of the ground.

“It wasn’t so much that people weren’t looking forward to it, it’s just where exactly to put the museum and how to fit it in the site,” said David Vaughn, director of the contract administration department for the city of Tampa. “The site sort of wandered for awhile. We were also a victim early on in the late 1990s when concrete and steel prices shot through the roof. That happened right about the time the previous design was ready to come out of the ground. That just blew the budget numbers out of the water and set the whole thing back.”

Scheduled to open in summer 2009, the museum is expected to cost $32.8 million, including $26.6 million in construction costs and additional funding for architectural fees, furniture, fixtures, equipment and move-in expenses. Public and private funding is being used for the project, with the city paying $18.5 million and the rest coming from capital campaign contributions and a construction loan from Wachovia Bank.

In June, the museum launched a new fundraising campaign with a large scale mailing to current and past museum members asking them to participate.

“So many people want to help us make this new museum become a reality, but some have said they feel their contribution would be too small to make a difference,” said Steve Klindt, director of development and public affairs in a release. But that’s not true, he said. If 100 people contribute at least 1 sq. ft., about $400, that generates more than $40,000, “which will help us to outfit our children’s art program and classroom.”

San Francisco architect Stanley Saitowitz designed the museum and the construction contract was awarded to Skanska USA, which Vaughn said has an outstanding track record with the city of Tampa.

“When we were going through the selection process there were a couple of things,” Vaughn said. “One, is when they made the short list and made their presentation they brought some specific folks on board with museum experience as well as urban park experience. Two, they’ve done work for us before. They were the construction manager on two garages in Ybor City, which are upscale parking garages because they’re in a historic district. They did that job very well and finished on a very tight time frame. They have a track record with us and we’ve been pleased with their past work.”

Currently, the old museum building has been demolished and utility work and site preparation is taking place, according to Vaughn. There’s already a large equipment contingent on site, including bulldozers, dump trucks, paving equipment and cranes.

“Nothing exotic,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn said there’s a host of subcontractors working on the project, including Horace Construction, a minority firm that entered into a mentoring partnership with Skanska.

“Currently, for the demolition and some of the early site work, the major sub they have is Kimmins,” said Vaughn, adding subs eventually will be hired for the steel work and all the various trades. Those contracts are still being negotiated, he said.

At its peak, Vaughn expects to have between 50 and 100 workers on the job, mostly during daytime shifts.

Because of its location — on the riverfront and in the middle of downtown — Vaughn said the challenges are similar to other urban projects.

“It’s a downtown project so there are issues with noise and dust,” Vaughn said. “We’re not doing anything that will disrupt transportation activities. There is an existing parking garage that’s got to be kept in operation. On the south side, there’s another garage related to a high-rise and its entry and access is being changed as part of the construction. So we’re having to sequence it so we can do the work and keep that garage access through the work.”

Vaughn said there’s some right of way work related to the underground utilities, but that will be fairly minor and short in duration to minimize the traffic impact.

Vaughn said communication and coordination with surrounding landowners and other city agencies are the keys to keeping things running smoothly.

“We do have some median changes related to changing the garage access,” Vaughn said. “It won’t close the street, but there will be some individual land closures for a few days. Almost all the work is happening within the site so as long as we pick up after ourselves, do dust control, all the normal things, we should not be disrupting much. So far it’s moving smoothly and everybody knows what everybody is doing. It’s a pretty happy project.”

When digging in Florida, there’s no telling what artifacts might be unearthed, but so far no gold coins or pirate treasures have been discovered.

“The high-rise tower and parking garage, it’s only about 20 years old,” Vaughn said. “There was an investigation done at that time. Before that, the site was the old convention center. They’ve done all that archeological stuff before we started this.”

Still, just a couple of miles from the site, another project unearthed quite a find.

“We thought we might run into some dinosaurs or something down there,” said Mike Dyer, a contract technician in the contract administration department. “A couple miles upstream they found a Confederate ship. A huge mast was sticking out of the ground and they didn’t know what it was.”

While the museum is the project’s centerpiece, there are a couple of other components, including an adjacent park and a parking garage green roof.

“Included in the Skanska contract, but not under contract for construction yet, is work related to the parking garage south of the site.” Vaughn said. “On top of that garage is a green roof. It’s in pretty bad shape. It needs waterproofing, a little bit of concrete repair and general refurbishment of the park itself. We’re close to negotiating a price for those improvements and that will be added to their contract.”

Another aspect to the job is one corner of the park site has been set aside for a children’s museum, which should begin construction by late summer.

“That is being constructed separate from this project,” Vaughn said. “The city has given the land, but the children’s museum is responsible for getting the building in there.”

As with many projects these days, green construction is being included in the museum.

“We’re not certifying the building green, but we’ve got a whole list of things being incorporated into the building,” Vaughn said.

That list includes a cool roof, high efficiency heating and air conditioning, lighting, recycled materials and carpet. During the demolition, they also separated materials and recycled whatever they could.

Though early, Vaughn said everything is on, or slightly ahead of schedule.

“So far, so good,” he said. “Things are looking good.”

Once the long-awaited museum is complete, it will provide another asset to Tampa’s growing cultural district and another link to the city’s riverwalk project.

“This part of downtown, one it’s on the river,” Vaughn said. “It’s just a key site on the river in terms of providing downtown access to the waterfront. It’s also the center of the city’s cultural area. There’s a performing arts center to the north. A couple of blocks away is the historic Tampa Theatre. This is seen as the core of what will be the city’s cultural district. It’s also going to be the centerpiece of a riverwalk project that is under construction now. It’s about 2.2 miles of riverwalk. It’s being phased and put in in pieces. We’ve got maybe a third of it in now and this will be another significant chunk of it.”

When the riverwalk is complete, it will connect the museum with the Tampa Aquarium. There’s also a history museum under construction and the whole corridor will be linked by the riverwalk. As Dyer said, “we’re pretty much a city under construction.”

City leaders hope the construction will not only benefit residents, but give an added boost to tourism.

“If you’ve been to Tampa and come back in two or three years and go to this area, you won’t recognize it,” Vaughn said. CEG

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