ST. PETERSBURG — Needing money to complete the construction of its new building, the Salvador Dali Museum got a $2.5 million boost from the city Thursday.
By a 7-1 vote, the City Council approved Mayor Bill Foster's plan to give the museum about half of the money it needs to complete a $36 million building along the downtown waterfront. Museum officials have fallen about $5 million short, blaming a bad economy.
The gift is not automatic. Pinellas County officials must approve another $2.5 million, or the city will take back the money. On Wednesday, the Tourist Development Council will vote on whether to match it. Also, the County Commission must allow the city to spend the money, which comes from a special account financed by property taxes that the county oversees. Right now, the city has that money earmarked for downtown pedestrian improvements.
But with the museum struggling to complete its building by a planned grand opening in January, council members said they couldn't ignore the museum's request.
Only Herb Polson voted against the gift.
"I have a problem with taking public dollars already assigned to public infrastructure to be used for a private entity. If we approve this request, we should get an equal concession from the Dali. But we are getting nothing for our money, and I think that is wrong."
Foster quickly rebutted Polson, saying the Dali has contributed greatly to the economic development of the city and will continue to do so.
"This is an organization, long before you or I sat on the council and I became mayor, that committed to this city," Foster said. "They've had hundreds of thousands of people come to our city. We'll get a quid pro quo, absolutely."
Aside from the county matching the city, the gift is also contingent on the museum finishing on time. If the project gets delayed, the city will keep its money.
Museum Director Hank Hine said that the construction is on schedule. He said most of the museum should be complete in November, allowing time for fine tuning before January.
Michael Van Sickler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.