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Salvador Dali Museum asks for $5 million in Pinellas County tourism money

The Salvador Dali Museum is asking Pinellas County to cover most of a shortfall to complete its new $36 million home, scheduled to open in one year.

Museum leaders are seeking $5 million in hotel room taxes for the structure under construction on the downtown waterfront near the Mahaffey Theater. The building will nearly double the size of the existing museum that houses the largest collection of works by the Spanish surrealist outside Spain.

All but $6 million has been raised from federal, state, city and private funding. But Dali officials concluded they'd tapped out local donors squeezed by the weak economy, said museum director Hank Hine.

"We're looking (now) at who the stakeholders are," he said. "Pinellas is not at the table yet. It would be appropriate for them to help. We're a fixture."

Museum backers recently began lobbying county commissioners and members of the Tourist Development Council, which decides how to spend revenues from the county's 5 percent tax on commercial lodging. The tax designed to promote tourism generated $23.5 million in the year ending Sept. 30.

The Dali attracts 200,000 visitors a year, nine out of 10 from outside Pinellas. Sixty percent cite the museum as their primary reason for coming to the county, says Hine. They spend 115,000 nights in the county's hotels, a number that would double in the new museum's first year, he says.

Those numbers should resonate with the tourist council, a combination of elected officials and executives at tourism businesses.

The panel prefers projects likely to bring in lots of overnight visitors, who pay more "bed tax" dollars, said Phil Henderson, a tourist council member and owner of StarLite Cruises in Clearwater. "I could support it," he said.

But competition for the money is keen. More than 60 percent pays 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 Clearwater and Dunedin eat up 21 percent. The rest goes to replenishing beaches, a fee to the tax collector and a reserve fund.

If the Tourist Development Council grants the Dali's request for the upcoming year, museum backers expect to raise the remaining $1 million from private donors. And what happens if the $6 million doesn't come through?

"We are convinced our community will rally and provide the remaining funding to complete the new Dali," said Marcia Crawley, director of development.

The museum threw a "Countdown to the New Dali" event Monday to mark the new museum's scheduled opening in 365 days. Leading off speeches by community leaders, St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster noted the Dali's role supporting hotels and other tourist businesses.

"As the Dali succeeds, we succeed," he said. "It's about heads in beds."

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Salvador Dali Museum asks for $5 million in Pinellas County tourism money 01/11/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 12, 2010 1:52pm]

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