TAMPA -- It's one of the final pieces of Tampa's new arts and cultural district, rising from a once-barren piece of land along the eastern banks of the Hillsborough River.
The Glazer Children's Museum, a 53,000-square-foot, $21 million facility, opens next week at its new location on the northern edge of Curtis Hixon Park, the latest in a series of new amenities in downtown Tampa that include parks, art and history museums.
The newly redesigned Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park -- which opened in January after a $43 million facelift -- and the new Tampa Museum of Art are breathing life into the city's once-sleepy urban core, according to Paul Ayres, director of Marketing and Business Development for the Tampa Downtown Partnership.
The attractions are drawing more residents to the downtown, he said, filling up high-rise buildings that were until now suffering from a lack of tenants amid the housing crisis.
"It's making the city's downtown an attractive place to live and visit," Ayres said.
Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who is finishing her last term in office, has made the arts and cultural district a priority for her administration, diverting millions of dollars toward it.
She said the success is evident on most weekends, when the park is full of people.
"This is a gift to the community," Iorio said recently. "It's an investment in Tampa's future and a place that will serve as the focal point of our downtown for generations to come."
Other amenities include Riverwalk, the city's 2.2-mile pedestrian corridor that begins at the Channel District and runs past the new museums. The city also plans to convert a section of Zack Street into the "Avenue of Arts" creating a walkway linking downtown to the park and waterfront.
Al Najjar, president and CEO of the Glazer Children's Museum, said he believes the new venue will eventually become the main attraction on the newly designed waterfront.
He expects the museum to attract upwards of 200,000 visitors a year, possibly more.
For backers of the project, the opening marks the end of a decade-long campaign.
"We had to go out there and raise every single dollar," said Sandy Murman, a former state lawmaker who chairs the museum's board of directors. "And it wasn't easy."
Murman said the project is an "example of how public-private partnerships should work."
Many of its 175 colorful exhibits will bear the names of sponsors, including Bright House Networks, Publix and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Exhibits will be hands-on, allowing kids to paddle a canoe, build a house or pretend to be a physician.
The biggest donor is the Glazer family, owners of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The family contributed $5 million to the project, while Hillsborough County directed $3 million in sales tax money to construction. The city of Tampa donated the land for the project.
By contrast, the Tampa Museum of Art next door relied heavily on money from the city and Hillsborough County, despite fundraising efforts by the museum's board of directors.
The art museum project cost more than $31 million, with about $18.5 million in public money, mostly from the half-cent Community Investment Tax approved by voters in 1996. The museum's board contributed about $10.1 million from private donations.
"This was a grass-roots effort," Murman said. "We didn't want to rely on public funding."
Reporter Christian M. Wade can be reached at (813) 259-7679