Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lawmakers want Clearwater Marine Aquarium to get cut of hotel tax money

A video of Winter the dolphin plays on a screen that looks like the window of a tank at the new “Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure” exhibit at the Harborview Center in Clearwater.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

A video of Winter the dolphin plays on a screen that looks like the window of a tank at the new “Winter’s Dolphin Tale Adventure” exhibit at the Harborview Center in Clearwater.

Clearwater Marine Aquarium won a wave of tourists thanks to world attention from the Dolphin Tale film set there.

Now aquarium backers want lawmakers to help fish out tourist tax money for the venue.

Two Clearwater-based state lawmakers have filed bills to make aquariums eligible to receive a cut from the county's 5 percent tax on hotel stays. State law now excludes them from receiving the money, overseen in Pinellas County by the Tourist Development Council. Sports stadiums, convention centers and museums are eligible.

The change would apply statewide to nonprofit aquariums open to the public, including the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. If the Legislature approves, each county would decide whether to give money to an aquarium for construction, operations and promotions.

But state Rep. Ed Hooper and state Sen. Jack Latvala, both Republicans, said their bills (HB 1015/SB 1274) are geared for Clearwater's venue.

"At the end of the day, Clearwater produces a fair amount of the TDC money in this county," Hooper said. "And I'm not sure that we ever get the same consideration on the expenditure side. This would help that equation also."

Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, who asked lawmakers for the bills, said tourists and hotel stays have increased with attention from the film, which is based on the life of a rescued dolphin with a prosthetic tail.

No specific project is envisioned for the money, though the aquarium recently expanded, Hibbard said.

David Yates, chief executive officer of the aquarium, did not return a message seeking comment Friday.

But some hoteliers, who often oppose tax money being siphoned from marketing that attracts tourists, have qualms.

"I think the Clearwater Marine Aquarium is a great asset to our destination, and nobody would disagree with that, but where does it stop?" Keith Overton, president of the Tradewinds Island Resorts on St. Pete Beach, said in an email Friday.

"Every museum will want funding, all the theme parks will expect a piece of it. … Next, it will be restaurants making an argument that they, too, attract visitors to the destination."

Pinellas' hotel tax generated $25.6 million the past year. Parts of it pay for debt on Tropicana Field, beach renourishment and marketing various tourism-related sites. Last year, however, county officials agreed to give $2.5 million to the Salvador Dalí Museum in St. Petersburg.

Pinellas TDC member Russ Bond, general manager of the Renaissance Vinoy hotel in St. Petersburg, said the aquarium would have a "threshold to cross" to justify receiving tourist taxes — such as showing increased overnight stays by tourists.

"I didn't see this one coming," Bond said. "My opinion is I think we would address it just like we looked at the Dalí Museum situation. … To tell anyone no in this day and age is shortsighted."

Hibbard and Clearwater officials first balked at providing the Dalí Museum with money in 2010. At the time, they noted the aquarium and other Clearwater sites were left out.

Ultimately, the county resolved the fight by allowing more venues to be eligible for marketing money earmarked from the tourist tax, including "zoological parks." But that term actually doesn't fit the aquarium, tourism director D.T. Minich said. The county did spend $144,000 for an ad in USA Today promoting the area as Dolphin Tale hit theaters this year.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/decamptimes.

Lawmakers want Clearwater Marine Aquarium to get cut of hotel tax money 12/23/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 23, 2011 8:26pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Largo company's bomb-detecting laser device shows promise in finding fentanyl

    Military

    A retired Green Beret who runs a Largo defense company that makes bomb-detecting equipment sees a new use for his laser-based technology: Detecting the dangerous opioid fentanyl from a distance to protect law enforcement personnel and help with prosecutions.

    Tim Molner with Alakai Defense Systems of Largo demonstrates how a company device uses laser technology to analyze chemical residue from a safe distance. [JIM DAMASKE   |   Times]
  2. Clearwater Beach driver: 'My intentions were to take my own life'

    News

    CLEARWATER — Ryan Michael Stiles stuck close to the dunes and blared his horn when he drove onto Clearwater Beach last Thursday afternoon. He didn't want to hurt anyone there, he said in an interview from the Pinellas County Jail on Tuesday morning.

    Ryan Michael Stiles, 27, was arrested last Thursday after driving onto the sands of Clearwater Beach, police said. He is currently being held at the Pinellas County Jail.
  3. After Trump's partisan speech, Boy Scouts of America reiterates that it is 'wholly non-partisan'

    National

    Following President Donald Trump's campaign-style speech at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia on Monday evening, the Boy Scouts of America released a statement that did not comment on the president's remarks but stated that the nonprofit organization is "wholly non-partisan and does not promote any one …

    Members of the Boy Scouts of America listen as President Donald Trump addresses the 2017 National Scout Jamboree at the Summit Bechtel National Scout Reserve in Glen Jean, W.Va., on Monday. [Doug Mills | New York Times]
  4. Florida Gators want a White Out in home opener

    Blogs

    At least the Florida Gators are trying to do something to spice up this season's home opener.

  5. Stop expecting Gerald McCoy to be Warren Sapp

    Bucs

    Here's the problem when it comes to Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy.

    Photo from National Pediatric Cancer Foundation The crowd cheered wildly for cancer survivor Joshua Fisher, left, and Tampa Bay Buc Gerald McCoy at the 14th annual Fashion Funds the Cure on May 6 to benefit the National Pediatric Cancer Foundation at Port Tampa Bay Terminal 2.