New History Center: It’s Our History – And Our Museum

While Jan Platt arguably has earned her “Commissioner No” moniker, her legacy will include an affirmative response she delivered back in the 1980s. That’s when, in an earlier stint as Hillsborough County commissioner, she gave the go-ahead to a task force to study the need and feasibility of a local history museum. The process would take a circuitous path, but the true believers never gave up.

Now those need-and-feasibility questions have been answered, and the city and county recently signed a deal to build the $17 million Tampa Bay History Center. The 32,000-square-foot facility will rise on a stretch of land that is part of Cotanchobee-Fort Brooke Park that fronts Garrison Channel across from Harbour Island. The opening is planned for 2008, at which time the current cramped quarters within the Tampa Convention Center will itself be rendered a piece of history.

The significance of the signed museum agreement cannot be overstated. Any more than history can be overstated.

As Kierkegaard put it, “Life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards.” We need to know where we’ve been – as a societal guide to where we’re going. Tampa – and the Tampa Bay region — is hardly an exception.

In fact, with a population that is so native-challenged, knowing the history of this place we all call home is critical to our identity as a community that is both evolving – and fast-forwarding. There’s enough that divides us through our often competing interests. But if you’re here, it’s your history too – city and county.

What is also significant is how the pieces came together.

For openers, the hard-core history backers had to do a lot more than make the case in the abstract for a museum – regardless of what Kierkegaard said. They had to hustle and fundraise as an incentive for tax money. To date, they’ve raised some $9.5 million toward a $20-million, permanent endowment. The county, via the Community Investment Tax, had pledged $17 million for construction.

Then the Florida Communities Trust provided funds for a land segment that was the final phase of Cotanchobee-Fort Brooke Park.

Finally, the County Commission, which is hardly a rubber stamp for projects actually located in Tampa, reaffirmed its commitment with a unanimous vote in October. Last week Mayor Pam Iorio and county commission Chairman Jim Norman signed off on the agreement bringing downtown Tampa a notch closer to a cultural arts destination.

One final thought. Here’s hoping that this recent lesson in cooperation is not soon forgotten, and that there’s no reversion to the “us-vs-them” mentality that has characterized so much of past city-county relations. Then it won’t be Kierkegaard – but Santayana who will need quoting: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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