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Pinellas commissioners approve $650K for two St. Petersburg attractions

Margie Manning

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Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center Exhibit Hall

The Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center and the Florida Holocaust Museum will get financial support from the Pinellas County bed tax for construction and renovation projects.

The Board of County Commissioners approved contracts providing $300,000 for construction of the Discovery Center on the St. Pete Pier and $350,000 for renovations at the Holocaust Museum, including a new entrance to address security concerns.

The Tuesday morning vote on the funding agreements came during an online meeting, but commissioners plan to hold their next regular meeting, on June 23, in person at the County Extension Center in Largo.

The Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center will be a 2,900-square-foot facility on the new Pier that will provide the only marine environmental experience in downtown St. Petersburg, executive director Dwayne Virgint told commissioners.

“We believe that taking visitors on the journey of recovery and restoration in Tampa Bay will inspire local residents and out-of-town guests to beneficial action, both close and afar. While we may not be the largest attraction in the market, we believe that our location on the new pier and our combination of interactive experiences and living marine exhibits will all provide another reason to visit the area,” Virgint told the board.

The Discovery Center will cost about $711,000 to build. In addition to the county funding, the city of St. Petersburg and the Milkey Family Foundation are each providing $150,000, with individual, foundation and corporate support making up the remaining $120,000. The project is expected to be completed no later than Oct. 31.

UPDATE: After publication, Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center provided different numbers than those included in the funding agreement county commissioners voted on that are quoted above.  According to a spokeswoman, the 3,000-square-foot Discovery Center will cost about $1.4 million to build. The Milkey Family Foundation is donating $1 million to the project, which is expected to open in conjunction with the St. Pete Pier this summer, the spokeswoman said.

As part of the funding agreement, the Discovery Center will include Visit St. Pete/Clearwater logos and branding in its marketing materials and on tickets, collaborate with the tourism agency on marketing campaigns and social media activities, host meetings and take VSPC clients on eco-tours. Tampa Bay Watch also agreed to promote the St. Petersburg-Clearwater area as the host site for the 2022 Restore America’s Estuary Program annual conference, with an estimated attendance of 1,000 conventioneers each staying an average of six nights.

Florida Holocaust Museum in downtown St. Petersburg

The Holocaust Museum agreed to include VSPC’s logo on all marketing materials for five years in exchange for funding for what Elizabeth Gelman, the museum’s executive director, called “an important security project.”

The $1.8 million project will include a new lobby entrance to address security concerns and ADA access, as well as a separate entrance for school groups. It’s expected to be completed by November 2023. The Holocaust Museum has received a $500,000 award from the state of Florida and the city of St. Petersburg has agreed to match county funding. Additional funding will come from donations.

County commissioners previously agreed to fund the projects late last year and early this year, along with two other funding packages with The Salvador Dali Museum and the St. Petersburg Museum of History. The agreements for the Dali Museum and the History Museum are under negotiations and will be presented for approval at a later date, board documents said.

The county’s funding comes from the tourist development tax fund, or the “bed tax” — a 6 percent tax collected on accommodations in Pinellas County rented for less than six months. The county’s funding kicks in after the projects are completed. By then, the county expects to have sufficient bed tax to support each agreement, but if the timelines on the projects were accelerated, there wouldn’t be enough bed tax revenue due to the impact on tourism of COVID-19, county documents said.

Commissioners will begin reviewing next year’s budget projections in a series of online meetings over the next two weeks. Commissioners have been meeting online since early April, because of the COVID-19 pandemic

When the county board holds its June 23 regular meeting it is expected to be in a large room at the County Extension Center at 12520 Ulmerton Rd. in Largo. That room is large enough to allow commissioners to be at least six feet apart and also allow public attendance while adhering to social distancing guidelines, said Barry Burton, county administrator. It will be outfitted with cameras so the meetings can be broadcast or webcast.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Mike Manning

    June 2, 2020at4:07 pm

    More good news for pinellas county and st. Petersburg. We are lucky to live in this dynamic and culturally sensitive area.

  2. Avatar

    JOHN DONOVAN

    June 2, 2020at5:46 pm

    Good decisions, both organizations.

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