Friday, January 19, 2018
Business

St. Pete council member wants tourism dollars to boost arts profile

ST. PETERSBURG — The city's arts and cultural offerings aren't marketed enough, says one City Council member, who thinks bed tax money might be the answer.

County tourism officials do a great job touting Pinellas beaches, but the city's arts community doesn't get the same treatment, Steve Kornell said.

"I've never seen an ad focus on the arts," Kornell said, contrasting that with cities like Memphis, Austin, Texas, and Santa Fe, N.M., which highlight their cultural amenities. "A whole host of cities do ad campaigns geared completely to the arts."

The city needs to work to raise the profile of its art scene with county tourism officials, said Dave Metz, the city's interim development administrator.

"Currently, it's not specifically on their radar," he said. "I think we have to craft a message."

The city has a robust arts scene, which includes big names like the Salvador Dalí Museum and the Chihuly Collection, but also many local arts and crafts galleries.

It's not just St. Petersburg that might benefit from an emphasis on arts tourism, Kornell said. Dunedin's Fine Arts Center, Ruth Eckerd Hall and the Capitol Theatre in Clearwater are other institutions that could use more exposure.

Where that money might come from is still up in the air. Booming tourism revenues, which fund the county's bed tax, allow for a sixth cent of tax to be collected. Kornell said that is a possible source.

Another target might be a slice of the penny used for the bonds to pay off Tropicana Field, which will be available in 2016. The Tourist Development Commission already has signaled it will use about $1.5 million of the roughly $6 million that will be available for purposes other than a capital project like a new stadium.

Council member Charlie Gerdes said the focus should be on keeping the Tampa Bay Rays in Pinellas until it becomes obvious the team is headed to Tampa or elsewhere.

Talk about other projects is "diluting Pinellas' ability to keep the Rays," he said.

Kornell said he fully supports keeping baseball in St. Petersburg. There are plenty of bed tax options to find money for arts promotion, he said.

The key will be to emphasize to gallery owners, museums and other cultural groups to keep better track of overnight visitors who come to the city to soak up the culture. That's a "lynch pin" for tapping bed tax money, said Joe Zeoli, the city's downtown enterprise facilities director and administration and finance managing director.

Other cities are already lining up for bed tax money and drawing up detailed proposals, including a downtown aquarium in Clearwater.

"There is a perception that St. Pete has had their share for the stadium and now this money should go someplace else," said council member Jim Kennedy.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago

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