The Glazer Children's Museum will open its doors to the public on Saturday, September 25, leaving just a few more days of waiting before this much-anticipated addition to the Bay area's cultural landscape.
Unless you happened to possess a Golden Ticket, in which case that magical world was revealed to you on Sunday, six days early.
Using the museum's web site and a variety of media partners including the Tampa Tribune and Clear Channel radio, more than 6,000 people signed up for a chance to win one of 50 coveted Golden Tickets. Last week, the 50 winners were notified and on Sunday, that group became the first Bay area residents to walk through the museum doors and get a glimpse at the wonders inside.
The 53,000-square-foot educational and cultural facility houses 175 hands-on exhibits and expects to draw over 200,000 visitors a year. Museum curators have toiled since construction began in January of 2009 to create a destination that will spark the imagination of its young visitors and introduce them to cultures and ideas from around the world. It is one of the most anticipated additions to the Tampa metropolitan area in many years, and on Sunday it was the private playground of 50 lucky children and their families.
Those visitors got the first look, but thousands more will follow, beginning on Saturday. Heidi Shimberg, the museum's Vice President of Development & Marketing, has felt the enthusiasm building in the community.
"I definitely feel that there is a buzz," said Shimberg. "There's a lot of pent-up excitement. I can't go anywhere without someone knowing that we're opening. People say, 'You're opening on the 25th, right? You're still scheduled to open on the 25th?' So we believe we've done a good job of getting the word out."
The Golden Ticket program helped in that regard. Despite the museum's imminent opening, there were still some families in the community who were unaware of this promising new destination for their children.
"It was an opportunity to reach out to families who may otherwise not have been familiar with the museum," said Shimberg. "Also because of them registering online, it was a chance for us to be able to stay in touch with them way beyond Golden Ticket."
As children arrived at the museum on Sunday morning they were given their official Golden Tickets to keep as souvenirs. They also received gold balloons and were greeted by a performer who welcomed them to the museum. After that, it was time to explore, capped by a lunch and a goodie bag for the exciting children at the end of the day.
Also invited were members of the Bay area media, who not only got their own sneak peek at the museum's contents but also had their first chance to witness local families interacting with the exhibits.
"It was a great way to get the media involved and help promote the museum," said Shimberg. "And most importantly, it's the media day with just the right amount of people in the museum."
Though the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were playing in Charlotte on Sunday, this was a big day for the organization back in Tampa as well. Members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders and team mascot Captain Fear were on hand to greet and entertain the visitors. In addition, the event was emceed by Marvelless Mark and entertainment was provided by DJ John Wendelken.
Families visiting the striking museum for the first time discovered a colorful and exciting venue situated next to the Hillsborough River, across from the University of Tampa and within a revitalized riverfront area. The museum's mission is to create learning environments where children play, discover and connect to the world around them to develop as lifelong learners and leaders. The museum provides a safe and playful environment where children and adults can learn about themselves, each other and the world they live in through exploration, role-playing and direct experience.
"Our family is dedicated to enriching the lives of youth in the Tampa Bay area through a variety of programs and grants," said Darcie Glazer Kassewitz, co-president of the Glazer Family Foundation, when the museum's opening date was announced. "We understand and appreciate the importance of positively shaping the lives of children, which is why we are proud to help finance the construction of this museum for families throughout West Central Florida to enjoy."
A combination of permanent and traveling exhibits, comprehensive year round programs and special events at the museum provides children, parents, caregivers and teachers with a rich and ever-changing environment for playful learning. Along with a 5,000 square foot Traveling Exhibit Hall, the museum houses over 27,000 square feet of exhibits aimed at inspiring children and families by creating learning opportunities around innovative play and discovery. Kids can pretend to be airplane pilots, cruise ship captains, construction workers, fire fighters, doctors and more in a safe, engaging environment.
And in a matter of just days that opportunity will be available to children throughout the Bay area, as well as visitors around the year. On Sunday, however, it was the playground to 50 lucky kids, each of whom clutched a very special Golden Ticket.