Backers of the Salvador Dali Museum had the door slammed on their request for Pinellas County to cover a shortfall so that they can complete a new $36 million museum. But the idea might not be dead quite yet.
Museum leaders asked for $5 million in hotel room taxes to finish the building under construction on the downtown waterfront near the Mahaffey Theater. The structure, scheduled to open in January, would nearly double the size of the current museum, which houses the largest collection of works by the Spanish surrealist outside Spain.
The request deeply split the county's Tourist Development Council, a panel of tourism industry executives and elected officials that decides how the tax money is spent. The 5 percent tax on commercial lodging generated $23.5 million for the year that ended Sept. 30.
On Tuesday, TDC members appeared to resolve the issue at a workshop. They voted 6-5 not to recommend that county commissioners change the Pinellas tourist development plan to let revenues be used to build museums owned by nonprofit groups and publicly owned performance halls and convention centers.
Opponents said the debate wasn't about the Dali. The tax was designed to promote Pinellas and attract more tourists to the county, said Doreen Moore of Travel Resort Services in Madeira Beach.
"I don't think bed tax dollars should be for augmenting or constructing new facilities," she said Wednesday.
More than 60 percent of the revenues pay for the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention and Visitors Bureau staff and advertising the county to tourists. Debt payments on Tropicana Field and baseball spring training stadiums in Dunedin and Clearwater eat up 21 percent, and the rest goes into replenishing beaches, a fee to the tax collector and a reserve fund.
Dali officials and supporters call the museum a top tourist attraction, drawing 200,000 visitors annually — nine of 10 from outside Pinellas.
"I believe cultural tourism is a draw for Pinellas County, especially those of international status like the Dali and the Chihuly (glass exhibit)," said County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel, who voted for the plan revision.
On Wednesday, she said the Dali proposal was "pretty much done." Dali director Hank Hine also didn't hold out much hope.
But Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard pledged to float a different plan change at the TDC meeting June 9. It would provide for letting tax revenues fund construction of nonprofit museums and certain other public attractions but would also require spreading the funding for projects equitably around the county.
Steve Huettel an be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3384.