Tampa poised to funnel $25 million to Straz Center expansion

The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts wants city support for its $80 million plan.
The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts wants public money to cover half of its planned $80 million expansion and renovation.
The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts wants public money to cover half of its planned $80 million expansion and renovation. [ ROB HARRIS | Courtesy of Rob Harris ]
Published Jan. 21, 2021|Updated Jan. 21, 2021

TAMPA — Straz Center officials made a pitch Thursday for substantial city support in the overhaul of the 34-year-old performing arts mecca on the city’s riverfront.

City Council members, sitting as board members of the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, appeared receptive to the request from the Straz: $25 million over a five-year-period beginning in October.

Straz Center president and CEO Judith Lisi and board member David Scher told council members that public support was crucial to kickstarting a fundraising campaign in the private sector.

Possible state and federal funds, along with other forms of public support, were expected to make up half of the $80 million campaign.

“We’re ready to do something boundless arm in arm with the city of Tampa and the (Community Redevelopment Agency),” Scher said. “We look forward to partnering with you to launch the next era.”

Lisi said the organization’s master plan would create more event space, remake the Riverwalk and Tyler Street approaches to the facility, expand its cultural offerings and keep the Straz at the forefront of Florida’s cultural institutions.

The city money would come from tax revenue generated within the Downtown Community Redevelopment Agency.

Council members agreed with Lisi’s assessment that the center was an important economic and cultural asset.

Council member John Dingfelder said the city-owned facility was due for some public financing love.

“The time comes periodically when the landlord needs to kick in and make some improvements,” he said.

Bill Carlson pushed last year to cap the amount of tax revenue generated in the Downtown redevelopment authority because the booming city center was no longer in need of extra tax dollars to wipe away blight. His effort failed.

Related: Bill Carlson pushes to cap Downtown Redevlopment Area

On Thursday, Carlson said as long as the Downtown special tax district remains in its current form, the Straz Center is a worthy recipient of its dollars.

Joseph Citro made a similar point, suggesting that if Tampa wants to invest in professional sports, it needs to do the same for the arts.

“This is an economic driver,” Citro said.

Orlando Gudes had some reservations that the city could afford such a large outlay, especially during the economic disarray accompanying the coronavirus pandemic.

“I’m all about the arts, but I also want to make sure we’re financially responsible,” Gudes said. “I want to make sure we have it to do it.”

Community Redevelopment Director Michelle Van Loan said the agency had budgeted $5 million for three years already, but would have to do a financial analysis to determine if the downtown area would generate enough tax revenue for the larger Straz request. She estimated total revenue for the Downtown Redevelopment Area to be in the neighborhood of $9 million to $10 million per year over the next five years.

All of the council members, except for Luis Viera and Charlie Miranda who were absent, approved city staff to continue studying the request and negotiating with the Straz Center and to report back monthly.