Tampa museum of arts


It seemed to her like a prudent decision.

Last year, Mayor Pam Iorio decided to wait to start building the new Tampa Museum of Art until philanthropists raised their share of the project's private money.

She did not want taxpayers stuck with a multimillion dollar bill if donors did not come through with $32-million in pledges.

"I have to look at the upset limit to the taxpayers,"

Then Ten months later, private donors have come tantalizingly close to Iorio's goal, by raising about $28-million. But the finish line just got pushed back.

In the past year, the rising cost of construction has added an estimated $6.8-million to the final cost of Tampa's new art museum.

That means fundraisers will need to raise millions more than expected - simply for concrete and steel, which costs more today than it did in August.

If Iorio had begun construction earlier - as former Mayor Dick Greco planned - the city would have locked in a fixed price for the project.

Of course, Greco's approach came with a big risk.

If donors did not come through with all the money during the two years of construction, taxpayers would have been stuck with a $10-million balance.

Thursday, Iorio defended her approach, saying it may slow construction but would guarantee the museum's long-term success.

"I know you have to have a snapshot now - a shovel in the ground," Iorio said. "But there is another snapshot. It's 2010. It's 2015. It's a healthy, successful museum that is making money."

She said the city did not have the plans ready earlier to build the museum nor the park that will surround it.

"You can't start a project when you don't have the money for it," she added.

The city has already committed $30-million to the project, now expected to cost at least $67-million. Private donors must come up with the rest.

Iorio still doesn't know what the final price tag will be.

The $6.8-million overrun is an "educated guess" but could be as low as $5-million, said Skipper Vaughan, director of pre-construction at Beck, which is part of the partnership building the museum.

"The market continues to escalate on us,"

China caused the boom in steel prices with huge construction projects, such as the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River and stadiums for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Prices could conceivably drop. they may be an "artificial high" and "could be lower six months from now."

But some museum boosters feel pressure to begin construction soon - and lock in today's prices.

"I do believe we should go ahead and get started, or else we should say we are going to do something else," said Don Wallace, a philanthropist who has given millions to charitable causes. Wallace's wife, Erika, is on the museum's campaign steering committee.

"We should have started a long time ago," Wallace said. "We would have saved money."

"I believe if we start," he added, "it will fall right into place."

Other donors said they understood Iorio's early caution but think the campaign has raised enough money to move ahead.

"I certainly think the sooner we get going putting a shovel in the ground, the more interested folks will be," said Barbara Romano, who is on the campaign steering committee. "They will see it is happening, and they will step up and help make it happen."

Either way, "I feel confident we will be able to do this,"

Sara Richter, vice chairman of the museum's board, agreed that Iorio had acted wisely last year to protect taxpayers. But now, speaking as one art supporter, Richter said it's time for progress.

"At some point, you have got to say, "We are doing it,"' "If you keep waiting, that carrot keeps getting pulled further and further away from you."

A former Tampa business icon had a relevant expression, "You have to get that first olive out of the jar."

"We can't break ground fast enough,"

James Pappas, chairman of the museum board, he's working closely with Iorio to make sure the city feels "comfortable" with the private fundraising.

"I do believe we are getting very close," he expected a decision from Iorio "very soon."

The campaign will need to raise at least the original goal of $32-million, he said. But he didn't think Iorio would require the extra $6-million before groundbreaking.

"We all recognize that you can't wait until all the money is in-hand, or we will be chasing the inflationary cost increase forever,"

Iorio wouldn't say whether she's considering speeding up the pace.

"I think we are going to find a solution," "We will get it done."

She would not elaborate.

she was talking to the private group about its commitment to raise more money and "what financial arrangements they are prepared to make."

She refused to explain what she meant by that, other than to say: "We will have a game plan that is businesslike."