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Downtown development aims to draw student body

MOSI plans to join other museums in downtown Tampa, as part of Lightning owner Jeff Vinik’s renovations to the area. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/MOSI

The plans to renovate downtown Tampa may give students even more of a reason to head to the city than simply watching a concert at Amalie Arena. 

Adding shopping, dining and easily accessible transportation, the aim is to connect students with a variety of cultural institutions iconic in Tampa Bay, according to multiple nearby museums.

One of the coming alterations is the relocation of the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) to a downtown location, which will renovate the museum — which hosts some of the same exhibits for years at a time — as well as offer USF or other interested parties a unique opportunity to expand to the soon-to-be vacant location. 

The $1 billion project is intended to revamp the downtown area into a new entertainment district in hopes of drawing the business of tourists, locals and students.

MOSI voted in April to begin planning the move with an estimated completion in three to five years. With the move, MOSI would look to be the “cultural centerpiece of the new development,” according to Grayson Kamm, the communications director for MOSI. 

“It would open up the 73 acres we are on now for redevelopment to a different use that is in line with the innovation district that the County has created along Fowler Avenue,” Kamm said. “It also, of course, is right across the street from a major research university, USF, so having this land be available to be turned into something new and different … benefits everyone.”

The museum plans to reach out to a variety of groups, including USF, once plans progress to find out what the public wants in a science center and how it can best reach out to students and local residents. 

MOSI, which currently offers several discounts to USF students including $2.50 off IMAX film tickets and membership discounts, according to Kamm, has made Fowler its home since 1982. 

The museum has partnered with USF for over a year to provide “science, technology, engineering, art, math and medicine education to the Tampa Bay community on a larger scale,” according to a press release by MOSI.

Whether professors lecture at the institution or USF clubs participate in events offered at the museum, MOSI has attempted to collaborate with the university and regain students’ presence. 

MOSI plans to move near the new USF medical school and heart institute downtown and looks to partner with them to promote health science in the area, Kamm said.

Other museums in the area share MOSI’s enthusiasm for the renovation, claiming the inclusion of other institutions, shops and restaurants will help boost business and draw larger crowds. 

C.J. Roberts, the president and CEO of the Tampa Bay History Center is looking forward to both MOSI’s potential move and the construction project’s impact on the cultural institutions in Tampa.

“Downtown has really been a jewel for a long time,” he said. “All the raw ingredients are all here to make downtown truly a destination for locals and visitors alike.” 

Roberts stressed the importance of integrating students into downtown life and making the Riverwalk a leisure destination. 

“We have lecture series and lots of things I think USF students would be interested in participating in,” Roberts said. “We also, of course, have a huge population of … interns that work with us throughout the year, many of whom come from USF.”

The Tampa Bay History Center, along with other institutions like the Tampa Museum of Art, the Henry B. Plant Museum and the Florida Museum of Photographic Art, all offer either free or discounted tickets and membership to students.

The proposed construction will include nearly three million square feet of development on the waterfront, taking up to a decade to complete, but when finished, students may have a new district to spend their free time. 

“I think students may find there is a good reason to now come downtown,” Roberts said. “There’s more to do, whether it’s participating in a program at the history center or something that’s happening at MOSI or some of the other assets that will be part of the new expansion. I think this will truly become a destination not just for local residents but our student population as well.”