The Dali Museum is facing a looming cloud of uncertainty as city officials have concerns on how the museum organization can proceed with a $42 million expansion.
City officials have long touted The Dali as one of the most prized assets of the community, but the expansion plans have drawn questions, particularly for a narrow strip of land controlled by the city that The Dali would use for parking.
However, the city wants to maintain control of that property and says it could impact the nearby Mahaffey Theater.
“The city is in adversary with The Dali instead of being its partner to develop this project that would benefit the entire city,” museum director Hank Hine said during a St. Pete City Council meeting Thursday.
The discussion arose as the museum organization said it needs Lot 6, a waterfront property that is controlled by the city and requires a referendum to convey a leasehold interest beyond five years.
Over several years, The Dali has planned a massive expansion to meet its growing needs. It initially planned to add a new wing with 20,000 square feet for community spaces and digital exhibits, and a new 150,000-square-foot parking garage, among other features.
The organization, which has spent millions of dollars on drafting design plans, continued to return to the drawing board several times to address issues or disruptions the expansion may cause.
These are three alternative plans:
- Plan A: The original plan The Dali proposed to Pinellas County in 2019.
- Plan B: This plan would involve future meeting space as part of a consolidated garage with public-facing retail along First Street and room for The Dali, Mahaffey and th annual Firestone Grand Prix to grow. However, this plan would take roughly three years to complete.
- Plan C: The current proposal requiring a referendum for Lot 6. This plan would give The Dali 40,000 square feet of exhibit space, expanded event space and store, virtual reality and artificial intelligence displays, and a full-service restaurant.
The Dali was considering Lot 3 as the site for its new parking garage, but the Grand Prix uses that lot for its races. Per the lease agreement, The Dali cannot build a structure that would interfere with the Grand Prix. The organization attempted to pivot this plan by recommending the parking structure to be built over the lot.
“For some reason, the city wants to take back the lot in terms of our rights to develop it. As far as I know, the only interest the city would have is a mixed-use for a [public] park and parking in the event it could be funded, but that’s a $100 million project. If there were a $100 million project funded by the city, we’d gladly share our lot,” Hine said.
Confusion circled in the room regarding the level of engagement from stakeholders such as the Grand Prix and Bill Edwards, CEO of Big3 Entertainment Group, which operates the city-owned Mahaffey Theater.
Edwards in particular has concerns about how the plans would impact the flow of traffic, staff member said.
Hine explained the museum organization has met with the Grand Prix eight times and met with city staff and the mayor 12 times regarding the lots.
“I think we need to have a chance to negotiate with the city. We will withdraw the proposal if the parties aren’t in agreement,” Hine said.
“Plan C was a compromise to Plan A, which provided for an expansion and the parking that was necessary to sustain that expansion and make the best use for it for the city and community,” Hine said, noting the revenue from parking is what makes the expansion financially sound.
“This has been complicated five times over,” Councilwoman Deborah Figgs-Sanders said during the meeting. “To get something with this extensive amount of challenges in front of our faces last minute to me, I’m uncomfortable with it.”
While the council had some pause on moving forward with the referendum, the council members unanimously approved advancing the item to a public hearing to come to a consensus. The hearing is scheduled for Aug. 12.
Attracting 400,000-500,000 visitors annually, The Dali is the most visited art museum in Florida, and generates a $160 million annual economic impact for the region. The museum received $17.5 million from the Pinellas County Tourism Development Council in 2019 to partially pay for its expansion, which would potentially bring an additional $20 million in annual economic impact.
“We are waiting for the city – our own home – to give us a green light,” Hine said.