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Dali museum granted next step in long road to receive tourism tax dollars

CLEARWATER — The Salvador Dali Museum is one step closer in a long process to receive $17.5 million in tourism money to help pay for its big renovation plans.

Pinellas County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to forward the Dali's application to the county's Tourist Development Council. The Dali's proposed plan would cost more than $38 million total and expand the museum's physical and digital footprint. The rest of the money would come through fundraising.

"We have a lot of capital needs that have been indicated," County Commission chair Karen Williams Seel said to the board members. "So, we are going to have to be lining these up to make some judicious decisions."

The tourism council serves as an advisory board on the spending of bed tax dollars, which pays for Pinellas' marketing arm Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

Applications for bed-tax dollars usually go straight to the tourism board, but because the Dali's request exceeded $10 million, it had to first appear before commissioners. Ultimately, it will be the commissioners who approve or deny the funding recommendations made by the tourism board.

The Dali is up against plenty of other capital projects seeking a piece of the millions the county pulls in every year by charging a 6 percent tax on overnight stays. Other applicants include the City of Clearwater, which is seeking $40 million to renovate the Philadelphia Phillies' baseball spring training stadium.

In addition to the stadium project, the tourism council will also consider four other capital projects, including the Dali museum. Funding requests from the St. Petersburg History Museum, the American Craftsman Museum and Tampa Bay Watch total another $4.5 million.

Commissioners expressed concern about whether there is enough money to go around.

"What we really need is a strategic approach to what we are going to do with the bed tax, because it cannot solve every problem," Commissioner Ken Welch said during the meeting.

Anything the county grants this years would have to be in staggered payments. Nearly $100 million in tourism money is already committed through 2020 on six new and three ongoing projects. By the time those commitments are paid out, the fund will only have $7.2 million remaining by the end of the 2020 fiscal year, according to county projections.

But tourism tax dollars would replenish the fund to $28 million by the end of 2021 if the county's projections are correct. Bed tax dollars have been steady. Last year, Visit St. Pete/Clearwater broke its own record by collecting about $60 million through the tax.

Seel said she hopes the commission will have determined how it will be spending the bed tax capital funds by the end of December.

Contact Sara DiNatale at Follow @sara_dinatale.