The Dali Museum is a world-class destination that attracts thousands of tourists annually to Pinellas County, many of whom stay in hotels and visit the beaches and other attractions. But as construction continues on an iconic new home on downtown St. Petersburg's waterfront, the museum's fundraising has fallen $6 million short of its $36 million goal. Given the museum's unique stature, it's more than reasonable for the county to pitch in some hotel bed tax dollars to help close the gap.
Today, a subcommittee of the Tourist Development Council meets to discuss the Dali's request for $5 million from the tax, which raises more than $20 million annually and is dedicated to promoting Pinellas tourism and job creation as well as satisfying the debt on Tropicana Field. The TDC and the County Commission, which would ultimately have to approve the deal, should find a way to contribute something toward meeting the Dali's shortfall.
So far, the county is the only government entity that hasn't stepped up to support what is clearly one of the area's primary tourist draws. Federal, state and St. Petersburg officials, in recognition of the Dali's special value, have contributed millions toward the new hurricane-resistant building. Private donors have contributed $15 million.
Even in its current, cramped facility, the Dali Museum is an international draw, attracting 200,000 tourists a year, second only to Pinellas beaches. The museum generates 115,000 hotel nights annually and has at least a $60 million impact on the local economy. It's anticipated that attendance could double with the new building.
While Pinellas County has a number of fine museums, the Dali is in a category by itself. It is one of only two museums in the world that focuses entirely on the work and life of surrealist artist Salvador Dali, and it has earned a three-star "must-see" rating from the Michelin Guide.
Dali officials had suggested the TDC could pay the money in a lump sum in 2015, when its obligation for debt payments for Tropicana Field will end. That wouldn't be wise. By 2015, those dollars may be needed for construction of a new baseball stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays.
But the TDC has other options for assisting the Dali, including temporarily skimming off some of the money now used to advertise Pinellas to tourists. And the Dali only needs a commitment for funding over time, not necessarily cash today.
The investment, in the long run, should more than pay for itself. With the Dali collection safe in a beautiful and unusual building, the museum will likely attract far more visitors who will book additional hotel rooms and contribute even more to the area's economy. Pinellas County should step up.