A brand-new, state-of-the art Carter G. Woodson African American Museum will be part of the Tropicana Field/historic Gas Plant District redevelopment. That much is certain.
Museum director Terri Lipsey Scott had a list of “demands” for the four organizations that pitched plans and designs to Mayor Ken Welch. “I didn’t want us to be up against an interstate, I didn’t want to be near a cemetery, and it was important to me that we were a part of Phase 1,” she said.
The Tampa Bay Rays, in partnership with Hines development group, got the nod from Welch and will break ground on the $6 billion downtown project in 2024. Construction is expected to take about four years.
There are numerous unanswered questions surrounding the new museum, but Scott – who currently operates out of a circa-1930s community center in Jordan Park – is fine with waiting for answers.
“When the Rays won, I couldn’t have been more ecstatic,” she said. “And I’m grateful for the opportunity that presents itself for us to be a part of that footprint.”
She remains grateful, too, for the 5.5 acres of Commerce Park, on 22nd Street South in the Deuces neighborhood, gifted by the city in 2019 for a brand-new facility to be called the Woodson African American Museum of Florida.
Even though she won’t be using it. “It was always a concern to me that the footprint wasn’t most ideal,” Scott said. “What I had requested along the Deuces was across the street from the Manhattan Casino. A large swath of land. And instead, it was just a sliver of land, if you will, on the other side of the Interstate. Where I am currently.”
With the ink drying on the Ray/Hines agreement, that property will now revert to the city.
Which won’t be as difficult as it sounds, Scott explained. “They never inked that deal with us. It was just the conversation that, that would be the land. We never signed anything; but it was known to all that was a gift that they made to us.”
Will plans and renderings for the proposed Deuces facility, from architects Huff Gooden, now have to be scrapped? Scott said the Rays/Hines team hasn’t discussed it with her.
Fundraising may also be an issue, as it was with the Deuces project.
“When we started this process, it was never my thought that were going to have to raise crazy money to build it,” Scott said. “Because the conversation started with them renovating the current location, and enhancing it to a larger scale. And then it went from there to ‘Oh, we’re going to give you this land.’ At the end of that conversation it became ‘OK, here’s the land … go raise the money.’”
Initial cost estimate for the Deuces museum was $27 million. That ballooned to $30 million. Then $40.
Thus far, the Tropicana Field/Gas Plant iteration of the Woodson Museum has about $19 million in the bank ($10 million from Rays/Hines, nearly $3 million in federal appropriations, $500,000 from an Institute of Museum and Library Services grant, $1 million from the State of Florida and approximately $4.5 million in philanthropic gifts and donations).
It’s all getting funneled into the new place, Scott said. As for how much fundraising will still need to be done, that’s a big question mark. “I was waiting for this project to manifest that it was real,” she said. “And it’s now real – now I’m waiting for that conversation.”
What will the price tag be, and who will pay for it? “The truth of the matter is, I don’t know,” Scott explained.
“The Rays made the $10 million commitment. It is my prayer that the City and the County recognize the benefit of this, and they will also become partners in this.
“I have been appointed to the state’s Black Museum Task Force. I’m one of the nine members. They’re looking to determine where Florida’s African-American Museum will be built. And I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to sell them on the idea, with as much as we have going, that this would be ideal.”