When St. Pete heads to the polls, the future of one of the city’s most iconic institutions will be on the ballot. The Dali Museum, a not-for-profit museum housing works by Salvador Dali, has $55 million plans to expand its world-renowned programming, and because the expansion takes place on city-owned waterfront property, it must be put to a public referendum.
That trigger of the law has perhaps been the more confusing aspect as voters prepare their decisions. The important part of understanding the referendum on expansion, is that this is not a vote on funding the expansion. The Dali will not use taxpayer dollars from St. Pete residents, nor does it require any direct funding from the City. To pay for this expansion, The Dali plans to use a combination of private money and funds from a capital grant awarded in 2019.
In practical terms, the referendum is asking citizens if they are in favor of, or against, allowing The Dali to amend its lease and use its own funding to expand on its current waterfront property. That property is still owned by the city, granted to The Dali under a renewable 99-year lease. And because the property is waterfront, it triggers the requirement for a public vote to amend the lease, ultimately either allowing or shutting down the expansion.
The Dali is currently allowed to build on three of the lots within the property, but Lot 6 (currently part of a parking lot) is not included in construction allowances on the original lease. The amendment would grant construction rights to Lot 6, located on the west side of museum next to the entrance.
Two-phase expansion would blend art with technology
So, what are these expansion plans? They are two-fold, with Phase 1 set to open as soon as next spring, as it is not part of the referendum. This smaller phase will construct a semi-permanent dome to be used for digital exhibitions, additional programming, and more community space. The dome will be located on the east side of The Dali, next to its outdoor seating area and garden.
Phase 2, which is the part of this triggering the referendum, would include a permanent westward extension of the current building, adding 60,000 square feet of gallery, educational and community space, with a targeted opening date of 2025. This would also form the new entrance to the museum, just west of the current entrance.
The majority of the funds for the estimated $55 million project will come from the museum’s expansion fund, corporate sponsorships, and private funds donated by supportive individuals. Additionally, in 2019, The Dali was awarded a Capital Project Grant of $17.5 million by the Pinellas County Commission, funded by the “bed tax.” That tax is collected from overnight tourist accommodations, which the county uses to reinvest into improvements for Pinellas County sports attractions and cultural arts organizations, such as The Dali in this instance.
And according to an independent study, that reinvestment from the county would more than pay for itself within the first year alone. Research Data Services, Inc. estimated that expansion of The Dali “would drive an incremental 70,000 visitors and nearly $180 million dollars in economic impact to St. Petersburg” just in year one. That’s in addition to the nearly $1 billion in economic impact the study estimates The Dali has already made over the last 10 years in St. Pete.
The Dali is one of the world’s most acclaimed collections of a single modern artist
As a cultural institution, The Dali has been a driving force behind St. Pete’s globally-celebrated arts scene for more than 40 years, and particularly since its current building opened in 2011. The museum’s expansion is also part of the City of St. Petersburg’s long-term plans for the Center for the Arts, a proposal centered around making The Dali and the neighboring Mahaffey Theater more inviting for guests, while also updating parking.
According to the museum, The Dali receives up to 400,000 visitors annually, and as a result, the current structure is “simply at capacity” for how many guests can attend. Despite the trigger of the referendum, the proposed Phase 2 expansion is actually not on the waterfront side of the property, but would instead extend into existing parking areas to add the extra space.
In larger terms, The Dali has described the expansion as an opportunity to further invest in the “creative spirit of the namesake artist,” Salvador Dali.
“The expansion calls for dedicated gallery space for experiences that blend art and technology,” the museum says. “Dalí Museum visitors have reported a strong interest in seeing more immersive experiences – they help people feel more connected to art, better understand it and gain inspiration from it.
“In addition to dedicated space for digital art, the expanded Museum would include more community space for K-12 student programs and adult education including the Museum’s growing Innovation Labs, a proprietary professional development program.”
City of St. Pete leads referendum, supportive of project
More details on The Dali’s expansion plans can be found at thedali.org. The full list of charter amendments and referendum questions on the ballot can be found from the city here, with The Dali’s information cited below.
“Referendum Question #1: Dali Museum Lease Amendment
The City and the Dalí Museum are within a 99-year lease for the City-owned waterfront property used by the Dalí Museum. Pursuant to Charter provisions limiting the use of City-owned waterfront property, addition of new property to the lease requires voter approval.
WHAT WOULD CHANGE
An amendment to the lease would add additional City-owned property to the lease to allow the construction of a Museum expansion.
Amendment conditions would address insurance, indemnity and coordination; operation of the Mahaffey Theater and the Grand Prix; and future development of the surrounding Center for the Arts.
The amendment would NOT extend the duration of the lease or require City funding for the expansion.”