ST. PETERSBURG — Regardless of how low the economy goes in the next two years, the new $35-million Salvador Dali Museum will be built and open in early 2011, museum director Hank Hine said Thursday.
Hine and museum trustee David Dyer were unequivocal about staying the course set by the trustees two months ago when they voted to begin building a new home for the Spanish surrealist's work on the downtown waterfront near the Mahaffey Theater.
Groundbreaking is set for Dec. 12.
All but $9-million has been raised through federal, state and private funding. Museum leaders hope most of the balance will come from the general public in donations large and small.
That might seem idealistic — even, well, surreal — in these times. But Hine makes a persuasive, pragmatic case.
He could validly argue that all art enriches a community emotionally and intellectually and that the Dali, as probably the greatest single-artist museum in the United States, adds particular international luster to St. Petersburg. Instead, he is pitching the project's dollars and cents. Museum statistics show about 200,000 people visit the Dali each year. About 180,000 are from outside the area, and more than 100,000 come specifically to see the museum. The museum estimates it generates about $50-million for the local economy every year.
The design delivers a lot for the $35-million price tag. The cost per square foot is about $500, on a par with the Tampa Museum of Art, now under construction. Some new museums have cost twice as much.
Architect Yann Weymouth of HOK begins with the classic big box of traditional museum architecture with a windowless facade to protect art from damaging sunlight. But rather than leave it as a stern monolith, he added an enormous bubble of geodesic glass that winds around and up the facade, forming non-gallery spaces such as the foyer. A dramatic concrete spiral staircase functionally ends at the third floor but continues as an aesthetic element up to the 80-foot ceiling. Weymouth calls it "the world's largest finial."
The most important design component is concrete walls 18 feet thick that can withstand a Category 5 hurricane. Geodesic glass does not shatter when it has been bombarded with debris at 180 miles per hour in stress tests, Hine said.
And the museum is green. A rooftop passive solar energy system, for example, will help keep energy consumption in the 66,000-square-foot building the same as in its current location, which is less than half the size.
All that extra space means more of the permanent collection will be displayed and special exhibitions relating to the surrealist movement and other artists will have their own dedicated galleries.
The museum store, which has always provided about 25 percent of the museum's $4-million annual budget, will be larger. A cafe will lead to a garden, part of which is being designed by Pinellas County math teachers with pavers placed in geometric patterns that illustrate mathematical concepts (which Dali loved) to be used as teaching tools. It's one small part of the educational possibilities at a museum that now hosts, for free, about 10,000 students each year. A student orientation area and theater in the new building will enhance visits for both children and adults.
The museum has been a source of pride ever since its improbable beginning in 1982, after civic leaders convinced Cleveland collectors Reynolds and Eleanor Morse to trust their collection to a small city they had never heard of. St. Petersburg seemed the location of last resort. Every major museum they approached rebuffed the Morses, saying they would welcome a few choice works by the Spanish surrealist but not the entire collection the couple had spent 40 years amassing. The Morses' gamble paid off. The museum has been self-sufficient and profitable since 1984 from admissions and shop sales, never needing significant fundraising. Until now.
"We will raise the money," said Dyer. "We would rather not borrow it, but we will if we must."
At the groundbreaking next week, the symbolic shovels won't dig very deep. But the hope is that the community will.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or email@example.com.