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St. Petersburg needs an arts dream ticket

ST. PETERSBURG — It's a game changer.

The recent opening of the new Salvador Dalí Museum marked a seminal moment for the city of St. Petersburg. Architect Yann Weymouth's creation is the crown jewel of the area.

But there are other gems in the Sunshine City, and the Dalí's opening should be a clarion call to city leaders to capitalize on the momentum that captured the attention of the arts world.

What better time to offer a strategy to encourage the countless visitors at the Dalí to linger and explore more of the city's cultural amenities.

According to a September 2010 report entitled "Economic Impact of Arts and Culture in St. Petersburg" by the USF St. Petersburg College of Business, the city has seven museums, six performing arts theaters and more than 25 art galleries.

The study, which looked at the economic impact of 32 of those arts and culture institutions, found that in 2009 they attracted 1,327,113 visitors and generated $25,527,058 in total revenue.

In addition, those groups contributed to roughly $16 million in direct spending in the city and $7.4 million in indirect spending.

Those figures do not include an additional $38 million that the Chihuly Collection is expected to bring in each year, said Katee Tully, executive director at the Morean Art Center, which runs the Chihuly. The Chihuly was not open at the time of the study.

With the opening of the Dalí Museum, those figures are expected to increase.

The city had this information in September. So why does it appear that there's little or no plan of action?

The city should be more proactive if it really intends to be an arts destination by committing to making all of its cultural amenities more accessible.

Why can't the city be the first in the state where children get into museums for free? Some cities do that, knowing that children are accompanied by paying adults.

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster could not be reached for comment.

In Chicago, the Kraft Great Kids Museum Passport, which is free, is a collaborative effort of the public library and 14 of the city's cultural institutions.

St. Petersburg has its share of world-class institutions. Is it a stretch to think it can happen here? It starts with vision — at City Hall and the Chamber of Commerce — but also among other leaders in the business community.

Not everyone is asleep at the helm. There's a plan in the works to offer a three-way pass that allows for admission to the Dalí, the Chihuly Collection and the Museum of Fine Art.

D.T. Minich, executive director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater, gets it. He has been working with some of the city's cultural institutions to offer options that will enhance a tourist's visit here.

"There's so much potential here. We're going to see attendance figures (at St. Petersburg museums) go through the roof,'' said Minich. "The amount of press that we've been dealing with on the international level is unprecedented for the area."

Minich's vision includes packages that would keep visitors in town for days at a time.

"In terms of what we're doing in the future — we're promoting the city as an arts destination, not just the Dalí but the city, with its European sensibilities as well as its walkability," he said.

But Minich understands that it will take more than just offering packages. Proper planning and coordination are essential for the success of a venture of this magnitude.

"We sponsored the Dalí and Chihuly banners (along Beach Drive and Dalí Boulevard), which is part of the link, to show visitors that it's easy to walk along the waterfront to the three gems. That's really how we're promoting it — the triple crown jewel.

"It's really unprecedented to have two museums that have world-famous artists and the Fine Arts Museum in the middle," he said.

But the Dalí's stunning grand enigma and the art it houses aren't the only things creating a buzz in the city. Tax-paying residents are grumbling about the admission price.

With Dalí's adult admission at $21.95, it is the second-most expensive museum in the state, after the Ringling Museum and Mansion.

Who would have dreamed that the admission to the Dalí would exceed that of the Guggenheim and Museum of Modern Art in New York City? (See box)

"The (Dalí) museum is self-funded through admissions and the store," said deputy director Kathy White, "and we did a careful cost analysis. We also offer $2 discounts as well as $10 admission on Thursday night from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m."

Few families will be able to take in much else unless the city gets creative in offering incentives like a city pass for our visitors to stay awhile and explore the other art houses and venues here.

An attempt at such a venture was made several years ago. It was a collaborative effort of the chamber and AAA and included the Dalí, Museum of Fine Arts, Holocaust Museum and the now-defunct Florida International Museum. Ticket sales were poor and so was the marketing of the package.

But much has changed since then. There's a vibrant downtown with more city dwellers and restaurants and watering holes, which can cater to tourists day and night.

The Dalí has plans to tout other landmarks in the city.

"We've concentrated on what we can do for our visitors," said Hank Hine, executive director of the Dalí. "A video kiosk will be put in the foyer that will showcase the other institutions here in the city," he said.

Tully said there has been a renewed interest from several groups in the Beach Drive corridor to offer a discounted pass for visitors. "There are a lot of great models out there, and D.T Minich's plan is a great start."

"The rising tide approach continues to be our philosophy here at the Morean Arts Center," said Tully.

For the common good, let's hope city officials catch the wave.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Sandra J. Gadsden is an assistant metro editor, community news. She can be reached at or at (727) 893-8874.

.Fast facts

Museum prices

Ringling Museum of Art: $25 (includes admission to mansion, art museum, two circus museums and a jewel box theater)

Salvador Dalí: $21.95

Chihuly Collection: $15

Museum of Fine Arts: $17

Florida Holocaust Museum: $14

Morean Art Center: $8 (includes gallery and hot shop)

P. Buckley Moss: free

MoMA: $20

Guggenheim Museum: $18

MoCA: Museum of Contemporary Art (Miami): $5

St. Petersburg needs an arts dream ticket 01/22/11 [Last modified: Saturday, January 22, 2011 3:31am]
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