The Pinellas County Tourist Development Council will have an opportunity on Wednesday to give tourism a real boost. It should vote to give the Dalí Museum $2.5 million in hotel bed tax revenue to ensure the speedy completion of the museum's iconic building on the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront. With that reasonable investment, the tourist council could open the door to potentially tens of thousands more visitors in Pinellas every year. It's a prudent plan that makes good business sense.
St. Petersburg did its part last week. The City Council voted to offer $2.5 million to the museum if the county will match the amount so the new $36 million Dalí Museum can open on time in January. The museum was rebuffed in June when it asked the tourist council for the full $5 million needed to finish the building. Tourist council members representing beach and hotel interests argued against using the bed tax for a construction project when the tax was created to raise tourism marketing dollars. Last year the tax raised more than $23 million.
With the Dalí's request to the tourist council now cut in half, it would be especially shortsighted for the council to refuse to help. The Dalí Museum draws 200,000 visitors a year, second only to Pinellas beaches. It generates an estimated 115,000 hotel nights each year. Those numbers likely will soar when the museum relocates into the architecturally unique building designed to showcase the talents of surrealist Salvador Dalí while also protecting the museum's collection from wind and flood.
But even more relevant to the tourist council's discussion is that more than half of the Dalí's visitors each year come from outside the Tampa Bay region. Those visitors spend an average of four days here, taking in not just the Dalí but other local and regional attractions. That's a direct economic benefit to the attractions, hoteliers, restaurants and merchants, and to local residents who need jobs.
In this difficult budget year, St. Petersburg officials had to dig deep to find the $2.5 million they offered. It will come from taxes collected in the Intown Redevelopment District and previously earmarked for pedestrian and streetscaping projects. The city is talking with museum officials about providing some additional programs in return for the money.
The County Commission will have to approve the change in use of the redevelopment funds. But since county officials so willingly provide tax incentives to private companies to relocate or expand in Pinellas, they should find it easy to clear the way for the Dalí. The new museum will boost tourism throughout the county and increase bed tax and sales tax collections. City, county and tourism officials need to work together so that next January, Pinellas County can celebrate the Dalí's grand opening and another success on the road to becoming an arts mecca.