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Giving hotel tax to Dali troubles Clearwater leaders

CLEARWATER — Officials in Clearwater are asking questions about the Salvador Dali Museum's attempt to get $5 million in hotel room taxes to finish its new building in St. Petersburg.

Clearwater's hotels generate about a third of the "bed tax" collected in all of Pinellas County. So Clearwater leaders want to make sure the area gets its fair share when that tax money gets spent.

They say they appreciate the fact that the Dali Museum is a unique attraction. But Clearwater officials are also relieved that Pinellas County's Tourist Development Council is taking its time before making a decision about the museum's multimillion-dollar request.

"It's a fairness issue," said City Council member Carlen Petersen, who is also a voting member of the tourism council. "There are other organizations throughout the county that would love to have that kind of money."

Hotel guests pay a 5 percent tax on their rooms in Pinellas County, and the roughly $23 million collected each year goes to promote local tourism.

The Dali Museum this week asked for $5 million to complete its new $36 million museum that's supposed to open next year. It will be twice as big and significantly more hurricane-proof than the existing museum.

But there's stiff competition for the hotel tax money. Most of it pays for advertising Pinellas County to tourists. About a fifth of it goes to debt payments on Tropicana Field and baseball stadiums in Clearwater and Dunedin. And some goes to beach renourishment.

The subject came up at Thursday night's Clearwater City Council meeting.

"You really don't want to be parochial," Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard said, noting that the Dali Museum draws visitors from all over the world. But he also said a lot of hotel taxes have gone to pay off the Trop, and some North Pinellas attractions might deserve funding, too, such as Ruth Eckerd Hall, the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Capitol Theatre.

On the other hand, City Council member George Cretekos suggested it might be shortsighted for the county not to bail out the museum because it's one of only two Dali museums in the world.

Clearwater officials and hoteliers are worried that giving $5 million to the Dali will lead to cuts in the county's tourism advertising.

The Tourist Development Council has decided to look into the issue and perhaps make a decision by March.

"I don't want this to dissolve into a parochial discussion" about how much money is spent north or south of Ulmerton Road, said Council member John Doran. "The better discussion is, what is the best use of this money for all of us?"

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4160.

Giving hotel tax to Dali troubles Clearwater leaders 01/15/10 [Last modified: Friday, January 15, 2010 8:25pm]

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