In the Nov. 8 election, St. Petersburg voters get to weigh in on four ballot measures — two referendums and two charter amendments. One of them would allow the Dali Museum to expand, which is the focus of this recommendation. To read the Times recommendation on the other three city ballot questions, click here.
Referendum 1: Dali Museum expansion
The Dali Museum, which sits on waterfront property, wants to expand by adding a 20,000-square-foot addition on a swath of land near the back of the existing museum building. Since changes to the city’s waterfront require a public referendum, voters get to decide whether the city should amend its lease with the Dali to accommodate the expansion. In this case, they should vote yes.
The museum’s plans for the new building include “immersive art experiences that blend art and technology and increased educational and community programming space.” No city funding is required. The expansion would not affect public access to the waterfront. In fact, given its position on the property, the proposed addition won’t be nearly as visible as the existing museum building.
The Dali Museum is one of St. Petersburg’s marquee attractions. It is the city’s best known museum and it draws hundreds of thousands of visitors every year — about 450,000 pre-pandemic. The museum estimates the expansion would draw an additional 70,000 visitors a year.
About 70% of the visitors come from out of town, including 15% from outside of the United States. As an economic driver, the locals vs. out-of-towners is an important distinction. Locals would likely spend their money somewhere else in St. Pete — at the movies or a restaurant — if not at the Dali. But the Dali draws tourists, who pump outside money into the local businesses. Dali visitors spend an average of 3.6 nights in the area, and one study found that the museum injects about $80 million in direct spending into the local economy. The museum has also been a good community partner, promoting educational and mentoring programs and providing free and discounted entry to a number of disadvantaged groups. Bottom line: Locals can visit this gem whenever they want, while also deriving the economic benefits of it being a major tourist draw.
The estimated cost of the expansion is $55 million, up from about $39 million in 2019. The museum hopes to get half from Pinellas’ Tourist Development Council, which in 2019 agreed to put $17.5 million toward the plan. Museum executive director Hank Hine told the editorial board that the museum has the financial wherewithal to sustain a loan for the other half. The museum will also pursue corporate sponsorships connected to the new building.
The ballot question acknowledges the importance of the Dali coexisting with the adjacent Mahaffey Theater and the St. Pete Grand Prix, which for one long weekend a year uses the city streets near the museum for its track. All three need to play well together, as they are all important city assets.
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The Dali has outgrown its current 68,000-square-foot space. The proposed expansion is reasonable and will not adversely affect access to the waterfront in that stretch of downtown. On referendum 1 to expand the Dali Museum, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting Yes.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.