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City council pushes The Dali expansion forward

Veronica Brezina

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The Dali Museum. File photo.

The Dali Museum is one step closer to achieving its vision of a massive expansion, but with certain limitations intact. 

On Thursday, the St. Petersburg City Council unanimously approved an ordinance on amending the city’s 99-year-long lease of waterfront property for The Dali Museum’s expansion. The city council would also be authorized to amend the lease with conditions.

The plans call for more than 60,000 square feet of new space for galleries, digital exhibits and events. 

The discussion comes after Dali Museum Director Hank Hine withdrew his plans to move forward on the expansion, which at the time was estimated to cost $42 million.

The latest proposal was to use Lot 6 for the expansion. The lot is a narrow strip of waterfront property controlled by the city, and would require a referendum for a change to The Dali’s 99-year lease if it were to pursue the property. Hine decided to pause the plans last year when concerns emerged on how it may impact the Firestone Grand Prix races and the Mahaffey Theater. However, The Dali is a major component of the city’s vision to establish a Center of the Arts and Hine said he has since worked with city staff on drafting proposed changes to the lease. 

“As you are aware, The Dali Museum is a global attraction for St. Petersburg and a major economic driver, not just in terms of bringing people in who spend money, but also in providing living wages for a substantial number of people. We see all of that expanding with this Center for the Arts,” Hine said. “We’re very proud The Dali Museum is seen as the first step in the development of the Center of the Arts, one that will eventually include an improved access to the Mahaffey entrance, a permanent home for the Florida Orchestra, and possibly some additional parkland where the garage now stands.” 

Bill Edwards, CEO of Big3 Entertainment Group, which operates the city-owned Mahaffey Theater, and Joseph Santiago, general manager of the Mahaffey Theater, both expressed concerns to the council on how the expansion would negatively impact the Mahaffey and would like to be included in any losses it may experience as a result, including how the construction may disrupt or lead to the canceling of shows. 

“We need to work together going forward, and not by duplicating services next door to each other. This is a critical process and The Dali should not be able to cannibalize its neighbor’s land and operations. There’s no protection of the losses for Big3 Entertainment,” Edwards said. “We just want to be included in any losses during this construction period.” 

“We support The Dali’s growth,” Santiago said. “We are looking in this process for fairness, we are looking for protection from losses and not just for one show  … this proposed project presents many challenges for us. We have two main arteries in the theater. Building on this lot takes one of those away. There’s also power in the ground in Lot 6 that can affect our businesses significantly.”

Councilmember Brandi Gabbard opened the discussion about amending the language for a changed lease agreement to reflect the liabilities if such losses were to occur, a notion councilmember Ed Montanari later took up, which was approved as a modification. 

Other listed amendments to the lease under the conditions established in the referendum ordinance include:

  • The expansion of the museum can’t compromise the Grand Prix race, including the track construction and dismantling. Currently, all of Lot 3 is included within the leased premises and is used by the museum for surface parking. Additionally, the lease provides the museum with certain future development rights for Lot 3 that may be exercised when it has not been used by the Grand Prix for five years. As currently written, those conditional development rights allow the museum to construct vertical improvements within Lot 3 that could be inconsistent with the Center of the Arts. Accordingly, the lease would be amended to establish a process through which the city would be allowed to remove portions of Lot 3 from the leased premises. 
  • The Mahaffey Theater, permanently situated within and comprising the majority of land mass within the Center for the Arts, will have impacts, including parking and access to the site. These and other issues must be addressed subject to the referendum receiving approval through lease amendments with Big 3 Entertainment.

In addition to an amendment to the lease with The Dali, amendments will also likely be required for the Mahaffey lease and Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg agreement to ensure success across all stakeholders within the Center of the Arts for the Dali Museum expansion, according to city documents.

A second reading of the ordinance to the lease will be held in August. If approved and continued, the citywide vote on the referendum for the expansion will be part of the general election on Nov. 8.

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    Roger Black

    July 15, 2022at4:48 pm

    How about rebuilding the hideous parking garage?

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