Local politicians and business leaders comprising the Tourist Development Council (TDC) recommend giving Dali Museum officials $34 million in bed tax funding for a significant expansion.
The money would cover about half the cost of the long-awaited and evolving project’s second phase. An independent consulting firm estimates the expansion would increase the museum’s attendance, along with room night rentals and tax revenues, by 33% to 37% over 10 years.
The Pinellas County Commission will make the final funding decision in the coming months. While a Crossroads Consulting analysis suggested that local officials provide between $24 million and $26.5 million, the TDC decided the expansion’s estimated impacts warranted the full request at its May 17 meeting.
“As far as our actual guidelines go, it checks every box one hundred percent,” said Phil M. Henderson Jr., CEO of StarLite Cruises. “I think everybody realizes that.”
The money will come from an additional 6% tax on lodging stays. In 2019, county commissioners gave the TDC approval to negotiate a $17.5 million funding agreement with The Dali, about half of the $35 million original design cost.
The pandemic hit, however, and construction costs soared. The museum’s leadership also expanded the project’s scope, and it now boasts a $68 million price tag.
Trevor Burgess, CEO of St. Pete-based Neptune Flood, led the Dali’s presentation to the TDC. He said the architectural firm that designed the current facility – and has worked on the Louvre in Paris – created the new plans.
Burgess called the facility an “iconic” aspect of the city’s downtown waterfront.
“And this expansion out onto what is called Lot 6 will be absolutely transformative, giving the museum the space it needs to grow to attract new visitation,” he added. “I’m very excited that it is a quadrupling of programmatic space from the original addition.”
The project’s first element is a semi-permanent dome structure that features projection exhibitions, education and community space. Construction is underway, and it should open this summer.
The funding request is for a 60,000-square-foot permanent extension of the current building. It would nearly double the facility’s size, house immersive and digital exhibitions and offer unique conference areas.
The expansion would also feature a rooftop vista with food and beverages. Susan Sieger, CEO of Crossroads Consulting, said the amenity’s views would help attract additional visitors.
Dr. Hank Hine, the Dali Museum’s executive director, said increased space would cement the museum’s place as the nation’s leading provider of interactive art experiences.
“If you’ve been to our Van Gogh Alive or you’ve seen Dali brought alive by artificial intelligence, then you know what our brand is,” Hine added. “We’ve done a lot of surveys to see this is what people want. We have that confirmed.”
Over 78% of St. Petersburg voters approved allowing museum officials to build on city-owned Lot 6, zoned as waterfront property, through a Nov. 2022 ballot referendum. “I guess The Dali is something that is completely bipartisan, given its contributions to this community,” Burgess said.
He called the facility a “flashing billboard” for the area and stressed that minimizing construction impacts on the Mahaffey Theater and the annual Grand Prix is a priority. While the TDC agreed that the institution is an economic driver, there were concerns regarding parking and several competing projects.
Museum officials eschewed plans for a parking garage in 2019. Burgess explained that people are increasingly utilizing the SunRunner bus rapid transit line and other alternative transportation methods around downtown, which has decreased the need by 10% to 20%.
He said existing parking lots and the Mahaffey garage provide enough spaces for now, “and with the city’s help, we’re in some very positive discussions” to use the facility more consistently. The city also owns the adjacent theater and Al Lang Stadium’s land, and St. Petersburg Councilmember Copley Gerdes echoed his comments.
“We’re looking at really a complete plan of that area, including parking,” Gerdes added. “I would anticipate that to happen over the next year to 18 months.”
The county collected nearly $96 million in bed taxes last year. Pinellas officials dedicate 60% to advertising and marketing, while the remainder goes to capital projects.
The Tampa Bay Rays will request money for a new stadium this year. Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst Sr. will soon ask his TDC colleagues to help support a significantly revamped spring training facility for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Adding to the ongoing debate over how local leadership distributes tourism taxes is a stalemate between Pinellas officials and the Army Corps of Engineers over critical beach renourishment funding. Commission and TDC Chair Janet Long said they are exploring what it would cost for the county to repair eroded coastlines without federal assistance.
“I have asked for a very deep dive discussion on policy … on how we value the way we spend our dollars on the TDC,” Long said.