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Tourism panel urges Pinellas to approve $2.5 million for new Salvador Dalí Museum

ST. PETERSBURG — The last big financial piece for the new Salvador Dalí Museum won a key endorsement Wednesday.

After repeatedly refusing funding, Pinellas County's Tourist Development Council recommended that county commissioners spend $2.5 million in hotel bed tax revenue to complete construction of the $36 million structure on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront.

The sour economy stalled fundraising over the past year, leaving the effort $6 million short, officials said. Last week, the St. Petersburg City Council approved Mayor Bill Foster's plan to give the museum $2.5 million — but only if the county matched that amount.

Some business members of the tourism panel argued that bed tax revenues should go into marketing Pinellas County to tourists. But four others joined local elected officials to support giving the museum $500,000 annually over five years, starting in 2015.

The Dalí could borrow on the county pledge and will raise the last $1 million from donations to finish in time for the scheduled Jan. 11 opening, the museum's development director, Marcia Crawley, said.

Its collection, the largest of the Spanish surrealist's works outside his home country, moves in January from its current site at 1000 Third St. SE to Bayshore Drive and Fifth Avenue SE, next to the Mahaffey Theater.

Architect Yann Weymouth's major directive in designing the new museum: make it a big, weatherproof box. As in, able to stand up to a Category 5 hurricane.

Important but not a lot of fun. Thanks to his creativity and new technology, Weymouth has been able to add glamour and sparkle to the pragmatic necessities.

On Wednesday, he received an award for the most dramatic element, named the Enigma, composed of more than 900 triangular glass panels held in a steel grid that swirls 75 feet from the roof to the ground of the 66,450-square-foot building.

Design director of the international architecture firm HOK, Weymouth accepted the Novum Design Excellence Award on the company's behalf. Milwaukee-based Novum Structures engineers, produces and installs sophisticated elements such as the Enigma.

The piece represents the largest use of this new glass-and-steel technology and the only one on this scale in the United States. The glass triangles are 1½ inches thick, Weymouth said, "insulated, reinforced, laminated and tempered. We tested their strength by shooting a missile into them."

Completing financing for the new museum hinged on politics, the art of the possible.

Dalí board members, including such heavy hitters as Raymond James Financial CEO Tom James, initially lobbied Tourist Development Council members in January for $5 million. Their response: Thanks, we'll get back to you.

The council's main job is deciding how to spend proceeds from the county's 5 percent tax on commercial lodging. Last year, the tax raised more than $23 million.

Designed to stimulate more tourism for counties, the tax initially supported advertising, convention and visitor bureaus and special events. But the uses quickly multiplied.

Bed taxes in Pinellas now pay to pump sand on beaches and cover debt service on Tropicana Field and baseball spring training stadiums in Dunedin and Clearwater. Council members like Russ Kimball of the Sheraton Sand Key Resort worry money needed for advertising the county to tourists is being siphoned off.

Any use for bed tax money must be spelled out in a tourist development plan approved by the County Commission. Building museums isn't among them now. Members met repeatedly to find language a majority of the 12 could accept.

That finally happened Wednesday.

Besides nonprofit museums, facilities for youth sports — a hot segment of the tourism business — would qualify for bed tax money under the new rules.

They also call for spreading bed tax money equitably throughout the county, said County Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel, who also chairs the council. That was a major concern to Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, another council member.

The museum grant and new rules will likely go before the County Commission in October, Seel said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384; Lennie Bennett can be reached at lennie@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8293.

The new Dalí Museum

The Salvador Dalí Museum opens Jan. 11 in its new building at Bayshore Drive and Fifth Avenue S, St. Petersburg, adjacent to the Mahaffey Theater on the downtown waterfront.

It will have 66,450 square feet, more than twice the size of the current one. It will have about 15,000 square feet of gallery space, a cafe and a gift shop.

The permanent collection has more than 2,000 works, including 96 oil paintings, next in size to the Dalí Museum in Cadaques, Spain.

Tourism panel urges Pinellas to approve $2.5 million for new Salvador Dalí Museum 08/11/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 12, 2010 2:52pm]
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