From the Bucs to Gasparilla, pirates – real and imagined – are an inescapable part of Tampa Bay’s popular culture.
The Tampa Bay History Center will lend some power to Tampa’s local pirate lore as the museum located on Tampa’s Riverwalk embarks on an $11 million expansion project.
The new “Treasure Seekers: Conquistadors, Pirates & Shipwrecks” gallery at the History Center will feature a 60-foot replica sailing vessel and focus on explorers who landed in “La Florida” more than 500 years ago, pirates who wreaked havoc along Florida’s coasts in the 17th and 18th centuries, and efforts to recover long-forgotten shipwrecks from Florida’s waters.
The new gallery is part of an 8,500-square-foot expansion that will also include the Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education (TML/FCCE), a partnership with the University of South Florida.
“We celebrate our role as this community’s storyteller,” said History Center President and CEO C.J. Roberts. “Expanding our galleries allows us to tell an even bigger story about the state of Florida, early European exploration, maritime history, shipwrecks and piracy. It will make the History Center even more of a destination for visitors and locals,” he added.
The History Center’s expansion project includes the Touchton Map Library/Florida Center for Cartographic Education. A partnership with the University of South Florida, the map library and cartographic center will be home to some 6,000 maps dating back to the discovery of the New World, and will be the only research library of its kind in the Southeastern United States.
Access to an additional 10,000 maps and other documents via USF Libraries will make the Touchton Map Library among the largest collections of Florida cartography anywhere in the world.
“The maps in this collection span five centuries,” said Rodney Kite-Powell, who was tapped to lead the map library and cartographic center. “It’s truly a world-class collection, something that doesn’t currently exist in the state of Florida.”
Rare artifacts recovered from shipwrecks off the coast of Florida, including 400-year-old navigational tools, weaponry and pottery, will also be on permanent display in the new “Treasure Seekers” gallery.
The focus on Florida’s maritime history allows the museum to explore the science, technology and engineering of centuries-old sailing vessels and how sailors used primitive tools and the stars to navigate unknown waters.
“Adding the maritime stories allows us to expand our educational offerings beyond history into science, technology, engineering, art and math,” said CEO Roberts.
The expansion comes at a time of growth for the History Center, which has seen attendance climb 20 percent over the past two years, surpassing 100,000 visitors annually. The Channel District where the History Center is located is also poised for a massive multi-billion-dollar redevelopment, which is just getting underway.
“It’s a great time for both the History Center and Tampa,” said Roberts. “We’re both charting a bold course for this area’s future.”