The the current space occupied by the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum was never meant to feature fine art. Canvases are displayed on painted-over and boarded-up windows; the temperature is never quite cool enough to safely display pieces for extended periods of time.
“We outgrew this space years ago,” said Terri Lipsey Scott, executive director at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson, who previously served as a St. Petersburg administrator for 37 years. “We’ve never been able to receive traveling exhibits because the museum is not credited as an actual museum.”
Lipsey Scott thought she’d found a solution when the City of St. Petersburg granted the museum $700,000 and 5.5 acres of land for expansion to a 29,000-square-foot facility across the street from the Historic Manhattan Casino.
Now, the museum is in the midst of a $20 million public fundraising effort.
“This community has the least, and we are required to do the most,” Lipsey Scott said.
Doing the Most
The current 4,000-square-foot mustard yellow building at 2240 9th Ave. S. is a former community center for the historically Black village of Jordan Park.
Today, Jordan Park is slated for demolition, to be transformed into a 60-unit high rise apartment building for seniors.
“It moves me emotionally that the people that had the least, these people in public housing, gave us their community center,” Lipsey Scott said.
The $700,000 in funding, unanimously approved by the St. Petersburg City Council in February of 2021, was part of the $1 million “Deuces Rising” initiative by the city to start the development of the new Woodson.
The other $300,000 was approved by the city council in 2020, and that money was poured into geotechnical testing and surveying for the site.
“The city advocated for this and allocated a certain amount of money, and now we’re just in the middle of fundraising,” said Ben Kirby, St. Petersburg Communications Director.
In all, the city has granted the land and $1 million in startup fees to the cause.
“I’m grateful for what the city has done – I never want to sound ungrateful – and the mayor has been graciously extending letters to potential donors,” Lipsey Scott said. “But there is such an element of inequality here still.”
It’s difficult not to reference the Tropicana Field Redevelopment Project, site of the historically Black Gas Plant neighborhood that was demolished to make way for the original sports arena. Redevelopment of that site will cost millions of dollars in taxpayer money.
“It grieves me, but I can’t look for equality until we reach equity,” Lipsey Scott said. “We have an airport here in St. Petersburg – I don’t have a plane; we have a marina – I don’t have a yacht.”
Far Off Dreams
Architectural plans, drawn up by Wannemacher Jensen Architects, lay spread on the museum’s front desk.
Lipsey Scott looks through them longingly.
The planned expansion would feature an outdoor stage, a garden for sculptures, galleries for permanent and traveling exhibits, and space for weddings, galas and community events. The plans were created in a dual effort of the city-hired Wannemacher Jensen Architects and Lipsey Scott.
“We have other museums here in St. Petersburg, but none of them with the focal point being this community,” Scott said. “Ultimately, we want to bring people here to St. Petersburg.”
Support the Woodson fundraising effort at woodsonmuseum.org/support.