The Pinellas County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved $350,000 in Tourist Development Tax funding to go toward capital improvements at the Florida Holocaust Museum.
Citing an increase in violence across the country directed toward Jewish-perceived institutions, the Florida Holocaust Museum requested the funds as one source of a $1.8 million renovation project. Other funds would include $500,000 from the State of Florida (which has already been allocated), $350,000 from the City of St. Petersburg and $616,614 from private contributions.
A renovated entrance would improve security and accessibility for visitors with mobility challenges. The renovations would also create an alley entrance that would allow large groups, like school visits, to enter immediately into the museum.
The renovations include many recommendations from the museum’s Security Field Assessment. Four security assessments over nine years have cited the security vulnerability of the front entrance as an issue.
This is the first time that the Florida Holocaust Museum has asked for capital improvement dollars from Pinellas County, and the first financial ask from the County in 12 years.
“This is a strange time in history and, sadly, the number of violent incidents at institutions perceived as Jewish continue to grow,” Elizabeth Gelman, Executive Director of the Florida Holocaust Museum, wrote in the county application. “Not only would it be a tragedy if an incident took place inside the Museum, our location in the heart of downtown St. Petersburg creates additional cause for concern, we must take security seriously.”
The Board of Commissioners agreed with Gelman. “Like it or not,” said Commissioner Dave Eggers, “this world has gone a little bit rogue on us and I think there are some situations that we can help. These folks have a direct tie to a lot of history and culture that needs to be preserved and protected.” Eggers also linked public safety to tourism, arguing that if public safety problems arose, tourism issues could follow.
“I strongly support this,” said Commissioner Karen Williams Seel. “I actually championed this through the Tourist Development Council. Because it is a very important issue and as stated already by Commissioner Eggers, it is an issue of security and making sure both our residents and our tourists are safe.”
“I’m elated that we’re going to be able to quickly respond to this request,” said Commissioner Ken Welch. “I couldn’t think of a more appropriate use of our funds.”