TAMPA — The curtain will rise on a new $25 million commitment from the city of Tampa to the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts
Tampa City Council, sitting as the Community Redevelopment Agency, approved the five-year agreement Thursday morning, but not without fiscal concerns briefly taking center stage.
“For me, I have some basic problems and challenges with this,” said Council member Luis Viera, who noted the funding could amount to as much as 40 percent of the downtown community redevelopment district’s budget in 2027.
“That for me is a challenge that leads me to my ‘no’ vote,” he said.
But Viera’s concern turned out to be a solo amid a chorus of overwhelming support. Council authorized the funding on a 6-1 vote.
“This kind of investment, though it is large, is noble. It is worth it.” said Council member Guido Maniscalco..
The city outlay, starting at $2.5 million in 2023 and topping off at $8.5 million in 2027, is intended to help the Straz Center complete a series of renovations and expansions to the 35-year-old structure. The capital investment is listed at $80 million and includes a new gateway to the performing arts center; a new welcome center; expanded and improved lobbies, additional special event space; and more terraces and outdoor venues.
Hillsborough County committed $2.5 million toward the project in its current budget, and Straz officials said they will raise approximately $50 million to match government contributions. David Scher, a Straz Center trustee, said the organization already raised 22 percent of its goal.
Hillsborough Commissioner Harry Cohen addressed Council before the vote and called the county’s $2.5 million a down payment. Cohen, also a Straz Center trustee, said he would seek additional county funding in the future.
“It is critically important that we support the arts in our community,” Cohen said.
The Council delayed action on the agreement in September, after Viera raised his concerns and Mayor Jane Castor said the size and timing of the appropriation should be worthy of further discussion. Castor does not sit on the Community Redevelopment Agency, which oversees money generated by increasing property tax dollars attributed to an area’s higher property values.
“It is the taxpayers’ money from within that district and they need to be recognized,” said Council member Orlando Gudes.
Thursday, multiple Council members and Straz Center CEO Judith Lisi highlighted the economic benefits of the performing arts center.
Lisi said the center has a $130 million annual economic impact, including 110,000 hotel room nights and 2,141 jobs. She estimated the expansion would boost the annual economic benefits by at least 20 percent.
The center has drawn 20 million people into its six theaters and conservatory since 1987, she said.