Arts Alliance still looking for money solution

ST. PETERSBURG — As the vision for the new Arts Alliance takes form, City Council members have key decisions to make, among which is how to pay for an endowment to support arts and culture in St. Petersburg.

A proposal from the council's Arts Funding Committee to dip into the $14.4 million Weeki Wachee fund was rejected last week. An ordinance states that the fund, created from the sale of a 440-acre recreation area along Weeki Wachee Springs in Hernando County, can be used only for parks, recreation, beautification or preservation.

Council member Jeff Danner, who sits on the Arts Funding Committee, said he is disappointed, but that he hopes to bring the matter up again.

With city grants for the arts severely cut, Danner said, "the idea was to come up with a way to add to that that wasn't tied to property taxes or the general revenue funding each year.''

Council member Steve Kornell did not support the proposal.

"I am deeply committed to the arts. I think they are an economic driver, but I don't think there is a will on council to use the Weeki Wachee fund,'' he said.

He suggested holding a concert to raise the money but said that, too, was shot down by his colleagues on the council. Yet, said Kornell, it worked for the Tampa Sports Authority, which raised $1 million from a Kenny Chesney concert at Raymond James Stadium last year.

This is not the first time that the idea of using the Weeki Wachee fund for the arts has been raised and dismissed. Kornell said he once suggested using a portion of the fund for youth, social services and the arts.

A 1999 referendum authorized the sale of the Weeki Wachee property, providing the money was used for parks, recreation, beautification or preservation. In the resolution proposed last week, though, the Arts Funding Committee said the referendum actually referred only to land on the west side of U.S. 19, not the east side. The committee asked that an ordinance be drafted to separate the funds so that interest from the sale of the eastside property could be used for the arts.

That might be legal, Kornell said Tuesday, but "when you tell the public you're doing something, you have to stick to that."

The idea for the Arts Alliance and related endowment emerged in the wake of budget allocations for the arts that dropped from more than $400,000 in 2007 to $175,000 in the past four years. Last fall, the council allocated $100,000 to start the alliance, with $50,000 designated to hire consultant John Collins. His charge is to launch the alliance and research ways to help fund the St. Petersburg Endowment for the Arts.

About two years ago, as head of the volunteer Arts Advisory Committee, he spearheaded a study of 32 organizations that looked at the economic impact of arts and culture in the city. It found that arts and cultural organizations provided more than 500 jobs and brought in 1.3 million visitors who spent $26 million in 2009.

"I think the return on the investment in the arts is measurable,'' he said during an interview this week.

Collins recently submitted a report to the council arts committee laying out several ways in which money could be raised for the arts endowment. One way was with $500,000 to $1 million from the Weeki Wachee fund.

"It would make a significant statement that St. Petersburg is indeed a city of the arts," he wrote, estimating that the endowment would generate $25,000 to $50,000 a year.

His report also gave examples of ways other areas around the country fund the arts. Miami-Dade, for example, uses a tourist development tax, Ohio's Cuyahoga County, a cigarette sales tax, and Oregon and southwest Washington, employee charitable campaigns.

Today Collins will present his report at the Mahaffey Theater during a meeting of St. Pete Arts — made up of leaders of the city's arts organizations — focusing on eight models that could be considered for funding the local endowment. The Weeki Wachee fund will not be one.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

Arts Alliance still looking for money solution 02/21/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 4:37pm]

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