The Florida Holocaust Museum unveiled new renderings for structural upgrades intended to make the downtown St. Petersburg site a safer place to visit.
Among the changes, the museum’s entrance will be redesigned so that every visitor must pass through security before entering, Elizabeth Gelman, the museum’s executive director, told the St. Petersburg City Council.
The Council on Thursday approved an agreement for the city to provide $350,000 for the security enhancements at the museum entrance. The city money matches the $350,000 approved by Pinellas County a year ago. The museum has been awarded $500,000 from the state of Florida. and has begun raising public donations to pay for the remaining costs of the project, Gelman said.
The safety upgrades are needed because of a rise in anti-Semitism, she said.
Anti-Semitic incidents remained at a historically high level across the United States in 2020, with a total of 2,024 incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism reported to the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish advocacy group. Locally, anti-Semitic flyers were circulating in two St. Petersburg neighborhoods, and the ADL reportedly warned the Florida Holocaust Museum about a small group of agitators who planned to target the Tampa Bay area, ABC Action News reported earlier this month.
In planning for the construction project, the museum consulted with law enforcement agencies, including Homeland Security and the St. Petersburg Police Department, Gelman said.
“All of them were very clear that when the museum was created originally, this kind of security was not needed and it was impossible to change what we had. We really needed to change and add on to the building itself,” she said.
The design of the current front entrance and stairs allows people to hide and “lurk” outside of security camera angles. In addition, magnetometers and other security screening takes place after visitors enter the museum. People with mobility challenges currently have to enter through the back entrance and be walked through the museum before reaching security. The same is true with large packages. While there are signs that no guns or weapons are allowed in the museum, guards are constantly finding weapons on visitors, as well as in backpacks, briefcases, and clothing.
The redesign will create a single point of entrance for everyone, with security screening taking place before anyone buys an admission ticket, Gelman said.
The lobby also will be expanded.
“That not only will this be helpful when we have school tours but we’ve seen the importance of space in our world as we go to attractions and places that are crowded,” Gelman said. “This is a place for people to be inside and have some physical distance.”
The museum will add an outdoor patio, which will — among other things — provide a place for visiting schoolchildren to have lunch.
“While the main goal is to ensure a secure environment for students and other visitors, we also have an opportunity … to make the museum more attractive and more welcoming for visitors, something that not only helps the museum but helps the entire downtown, and also for us to have the room to promote other local attractions and information,” Gelman said.
About $110,000 in funding from the city will be used to finish the architectural design, with $20,000 used for the security consultant, $18,000 for permitting and $202,000 for initial construction costs.
The museum expects to begin construction in April 2022 and wrap up construction no later than April 2023. The museum should be able to remain open while construction is taking place, she said.