Should St. Pete voters allow the Dalí Museum to expand? A recommendation from the editorial board of the Times

This article represents the opinion of the Editorial Board of the Tampa Bay Times.

In the November 8 elections, voters in St. Petersburg can have a say on four ballot measures: two referendums and two statute amendments. One of them would make it possible to expand the Dalí Museum, which is the focus of this recommendation. To read the Times’ recommendation on the city’s other three ballot questions, click here.

Referendum 1: Expansion of the Dalí Museum

The Dalí Museum, which sits on waterfront property, wants to expand by adding a 20,000-square-foot addition on a strip of land near the rear of the existing museum building. Since changes to the city’s waterfront require a public referendum, voters can decide whether the city should amend its lease with Dali to accommodate the expansion. In this case, they should vote yes.

Map of the proposed expansion of the Dalí Museum.
Map of the proposed expansion of the Dalí Museum. [ Dali Museum ]

The museum’s plans for the new building include “immersive arts experiences that blend art and technology and increased educational and community programming space.” City funding is not required. The expansion would not affect public access to the waterfront. In fact, given its position on the property, the proposed addition will not be as visible as the existing museum building.

The Dalí Museum is one of the main attractions of Saint Petersburg. It is the best-known museum in the city and attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year, some 450,000 before the pandemic. The museum estimates that the expansion would attract an additional 70,000 visitors a year.

by Salvador Dali "Archaeological reminiscence of Millet's Angelus."
“Archaeological Reminiscence of the Angelus of Millet” by Salvador Dalí.

About 70% of visitors come from outside the city, including 15% from outside the United States. As an economic driver, locals versus outsiders is an important distinction. The locals would probably spend their money elsewhere in St. Pete, at the movies or a restaurant, if not at the Dali. But the Dalí attracts tourists, who pump outside money into local businesses. Visitors to Dali 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 partner in the community, promoting educational and mentoring programs and providing free and discounted admission to a number of disadvantaged groups. Bottom line: Locals can visit this gem whenever they want, while also reaping the economic benefits of being a major tourist attraction.

Related: All recommendations from the Times Editorial Board.

The estimated cost of the expansion is $55 million, up from $39 million in 2019. The museum hopes to get half from the Pinellas Tourism Development Council, which in 2019 agreed to put $17.5 million into the plan. Museum executive director Hank Hine told the editorial board that the museum has the financial means to sustain a loan for the other half. The museum will also seek corporate sponsorships related to the new building.

The ballot question acknowledges the importance of the Dalí co-existing 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 runway. The three of them must play well together, as they are all important assets of the city.

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The Dali has outgrown its current space of 68,000 square feet. The proposed expansion is reasonable and will not adversely affect waterfront access in that downtown stretch. In referendum 1 to expand the Dalí Museum, the Tampa Bay Times recommends voting Yes.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. Members of the Editorial Board are Editorial Editor Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst, and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. To follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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