It has been nearly a year since I suggested that the Sunshine City offer an arts pass.
Considering that city leaders beamed with pride (twice) after St. Petersburg earned first place on AmericanStyle magazine's list of top 25 U.S. arts destinations for midsized cities, the idea makes sense.
Pulling it off, however, is another matter.
Last month, a collaborative effort was announced for a new arts and entertainment pass. Participating venues include the Chihuly Collection, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Morean Arts Center and the Morean's Glass Studio and Hot Shop.
The arts groups joined forces "to encourage greater participation in the arts," with a goal of making the arts more accessible and affordable. It's a start, but it lacks punch.
According to a 2010 study by the USF St. Petersburg College of Business, the city has seven museums, six performing arts theaters and more than 25 art galleries. There should be opportunities for more venues to participate.
It takes vision to pull off such a venture, so kudos to the team responsible for getting the arts pass off the ground. But let's be clear: A true arts pass must include the Salvador Dali Museum.
"We certainly tried to involve them early on, but they just didn't want to participate," said Wayne Atherholt, director of marketing/communications at the Morean Arts Center.
Dali officials agree they were a part of the early discussions but eventually bowed out.
"We learned about the pass at a Chamber of Commerce meeting," said Hank Hine, executive director of the Dali. "We had discussions early on with four entities. We were talking about a common ticket, but the right price and administrative costs got bogged down in discussions."
The common ticket isn't new here. And Atherholt is no stranger to the process. He organized an arts pass in the city in 1992. Back then "we just had the museums — Great Explorations, the Dali, Museum of Fine Arts and the History Museum."
In addition to one admission to each of the participating venues, the arts pass, which costs $34.50, also includes admission to one of the midday series shows at the Mahaffey Theater.
Downtown restaurants are also participating in the venture, offering specials, including dessert, beer or a glass of wine for passholders who buy dinner. Participating restaurants include the MFA Café, Marchands at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort and Golf Club, the Park Shore Grill, the Hangar at Albert Whitted Airport, 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House and Spice Routes at the Morean.
Broad participation from these downtown venues makes the Dali's absence more baffling.
Keep in mind, Pinellas County taxpayers are footing part of the Dali's $36 million price tag with $2.5 million in tourist tax revenue — which was matched by $2.5 million in property taxes from St. Petersburg.
But Hine is quick to point out that "this is an operational issue, not a capital issue."
The Dali is considering a $2 off coupon, but short of that, there are limitations to participating in the arts pass.
"We can't offer a discounted ticket because we have real costs," said Hine. "I believe there are aspects for some great marketing (for the arts pass), and we'll work on that."
Hine said he was not a part of the discussions that included the Mahaffey and participating restaurants but applauds the inclusion.
"The Mahaffey is an incredible addition, and I'm hopeful that we can work something out."
But don't expect to see the Dali as part of the arts pass anytime soon.
"We just can't discount our product to the point that we lose revenue. … When we do, then we're working from a point of weakness. We just can't do that."
Still, the Dali is looking for other opportunities to work with other arts venues.
"I think there's a great future in joint marketing," Hine said, "and I look forward to being a part of that."
Sandra J. Gadsden is an assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at [email protected] or at (727) 893-8874.