TAMPA — First came the red lights shining support for entertainment and cultural venues Tuesday night. Wednesday morning, came the okay for some green cash with the eventual goal of helping theaters and museums get back into the black.
Hillsborough County commissioners approved a multimillion-dollar relief package for eight non-profit cultural centers Wednesday, and also authorized paying for separate safety improvements at the county-owned Amelia Arena and George Steinbrenner Field totaling $4.1 million.
The votes came, coincidentally, the morning after venues in the Tampa Bay region and around the country shined exterior red lights in a so-called Red Alert Restart asking Congress to pass the RESTART Act offering economic relief to the live events industry. If approved, the legislation would provide financial support for theaters, arenas and museums that went dark in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
The county program, financed with federal CARES Act dollars, will aid eight, high-tourism venues: the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, Tampa Theatre, ZooTampa, Florida Aquarium, Tampa Bay History Center, Tampa Museum of Art, Glazer Children’s Museum and the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI). Each is eligible for up to $500,000 reimbursement for coronavirus-related supplies, equipment, and facility improvements to protect employees and guests.
“This is going to go a long way to help them bridge the gap so at least they can stay functioning until we get back to normal, whenever that would be,’' said Commissioner Sandy Murman.
Two weeks ago, Judy Lisi, president and CEO of the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, told commissioners the venue would need an estimated $8.6 million, including $2.6 million for safety and sanitary upgrades, until it can resume revenue-generating ticket sales for stage performances.
The county said other non-profits providing after-school camps and classes to youths also can apply for $250,000 reimbursements. Under the program, the planned safety precautions must align with federal Centers for Disease Control guidelines.
Commissioners also approved nearly $1.7 million for safety improvements to George M. Steinbrenner Field, the spring training home of the New York Yankees, and $2.4 million for modification to Amalie Arena. Commissioner Stacy White dissented on both votes.
At the 11,000-seat Steinbrenner stadium, the money will cover modification to provide contactless tickets and turnstiles, touch-free fixtures and toilets in restrooms, shade canopies for temperature checks, Plexiglas protection guards for ticket booths and other locations, and a remodeled dining area to allow space for social distancing.
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Changes at Amalie include sneeze guards at 262 locations, Plexiglas barriers, sanitizing equipment for escalator handrails, an exterior public address system, a contactless retail system for concessions and stores and improved ventilation.
The county previously approved more than $10 million worth of safety upgrades to Raymond James Stadium.
Separately, commissioners on Wednesday authorized CARES Act spending to feed the homeless, assist Head Start and to cover the county’s own expenses responding to the pandemic. The spending included:
- $56 million for the county, which has spent $20 million, and encumbered $36 million more, through Aug. 14, as part of its coronavirus response. The purchases included nearly $3 million for face masks, $2.7 million for testing services, $5.2 million for temporary sheltering, $1.2 million for medical kits and medical supplies, $53,000 for face shields, $134,000 for gloves and $328,000 for hand sanitizers, and isopropyl alcohol.
- $3 million to Head Start and Early Head Start and to support “preventative, preparedness, and responsive activities to control the spread of COVID-19.”
- $574,875 to the East Tampa Business and Civic Association, Inc. for the agency to provide groceries for up to 328,500 meals at its pantry and mobile distribution sites to serve seniors and families in so-called food deserts in the county.
- $20 million to the city of Tampa, $4 million to Plant City and $228,817 to Temple Terrace for their coronavirus expenses.