Three Pinellas museums close in on $20.6 million in tourist tax money

The Dalí Museum, St. Petersburg Museum of History and Tampa Bay Watch are on track to receive bed tax dollars for expansions.
The Pinellas County Commission moved closer Tuesday to granting a total of $20.6 million to three museums: the Salvidor Dali Museum (top), the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center (bottom left), and the St. Petersburg Museum of History.
The Pinellas County Commission moved closer Tuesday to granting a total of $20.6 million to three museums: the Salvidor Dali Museum (top), the Tampa Bay Watch Discovery Center (bottom left), and the St. Petersburg Museum of History. [ Photos courtesy of Pinellas County ]
Published Nov. 13, 2019

Three Tampa Bay institutions are one step closer to securing a total of $20.6 million in tourist development tax dollars for their expansion projects.

The Pinellas County Commission voted unanimously on Tuesday to allow the Tourist Development Council staff to negotiate funding agreements with the Salvador Dalí Museum, the St. Petersburg Museum of History and Tampa Bay Watch.

Before the commission will revisit the awards for final approval, the organizations must now finalize terms for how the projects will promote Pinellas County and tourism to the area, a requirement to receive bed tax revenue. The 6 percent tax is collected on hotel and motel stays.

Commissioners gave initial approval for: $17.5 million to fund the Dalí museum’s expansion including 10,000 square feet of new exhibition space, 10,000 square feet of multipurpose rooms and a new 270-space parking garage; $2.8 million to the St. Petersburg Museum of History’s two-story expansion with a visitor center, gift shop, conference area, exhibit space and a 3,500-square-foot rooftop area; and $300,000 for Tampa Bay Watch to build a 2,900-square-foot Discovery Center museum on the St. Petersburg Pier to showcase the economic and ecological elements of the Tampa Bay estuary.

This is the second round of bed tax money the Dalí museum is set to receive. After the commission revised rules in 2010 to allow private museums to receive tourist taxes for construction projects, the Dalí was granted $2.5 million. If approved, the $17.5 million award will be granted in 2022, contributing to the museum’s $38.7 million total project.

Karen Lang Johnston, chair of the Dalí Museum Board of Trustees, told commissioners that taxpayers’ investment has already paid off.

“The Dalí brings the world to Pinellas County and St. Petersburg,” Lang Johnston said. “Over 75 percent of our visitors come from someplace else. And the Dalí brings our community to the world. We have right now over a dozen works of art on loan in Europe, and annually we have hundreds that go abroad. All of that brings people back to us."

An economic impact study commissioned by the museum estimates the expansion’s opening year in 2022 will bring 78,600 in new attendees on top of the 371,662 visitors in 2018. The internal consultants estimated the first year of the expanded facility will produce 25,700 new room nights and an $18.2 million economic impact.

The St. Petersburg History Museum, which opened in 1922 and is next to the current Pier District, is owned by the City of St. Petersburg. Its $7.2 million expansion project is promoted as complementing the early 2020 opening of the St. Petersburg Pier nearby, according to its application.

Consultants hired by the museum predicted the Pier opening and new museum amenities will result in an incremental annual increase of 75,000 attendees, a far cry from the museum’s 9,000 current visitors.

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Tampa Bay Watch was established in 1993 to focus on restoration of the estuary and opened an education center in Tierra Verde in 2005. The $720,000 museum planned for the Pier will have exhibition and classroom space to “showcase the economic and ecological value of the Tampa Bay estuary to both residents and visitors,” according to its application for the $300,000 in bed taxes.

Commissioners advanced the project even though Tampa Bay Watch consultants estimated the Discovery Center would generate only 6,000 room nights, less than the 10,000 room nights that county bed tax guidelines require for capital projects receiving up to $5 million. Consultants estimated the museum will have a $1.6 million annual economic impact.