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Salvador Dali Museum names its site in St. Petersburg

Officials say land now occupied by the Times Arena at Bayfront Center is the best choice.

CARRIE JOHNSON
Published May 12, 2004

ST. PETERSBURG - Salvador Dali, long considered the greatest artist of the surrealist movement, was born 100 years ago Tuesday.

So representatives from the museum that houses the largest collection of Dali's work used the historic occasion to ask the City Council to give them a new home on St. Petersburg's waterfront.

After months of speculation about the future of the Dali, Tuesday's presentation offered the first concrete evidence that museum leaders plan to move into the site now occupied by the Times Arena at Bayfront Center.

The arena is scheduled for demolition in early 2005.

"Out of all of the sites we have considered, this one fits our needs best," said Tom James, president of the museum's board of directors.

James and Hank Hine, the museum's executive director, asked council members to consider a proposal that would let them build a 50,000-square-foot museum south of the Mahaffey Theater. The museum and the theater would be connected by a pedestrian plaza overlooking Tampa Bay.

The three-story museum would be 20,000 square feet larger than the current museum and would include space for classrooms and a research library.

The city owns the property where the Dali Museum is now. The Dali's lease expires in 2072.

As part of the plan, the city would sell that property to the state so the University of South Florida St. Petersburg could use the valuable waterfront site for expansion.

To achieve this, the council would have to approve two referendum questions for the Nov. 9 ballot. The ballot questions are necessary because the city can't sell or lease waterfront property without voter approval.

The need for the move comes from the Dali Museum's location in a one-story building on 1000 Third St. S, where it is at constant risk of damage from high winds or hurricanes, said James.

"It's not just risk of wind damage to the building," he said. "It's the danger of projectiles, large yachts, being thrown through the building."

The museum's collection is valued at more than $500-million, and the threat of a storm would close the building for three days as workers placed paintings in a secure vault, Hine added.

Also, the museum is difficult for some tourists to find. A site closer to downtown could attract more visitors and encourage people to visit other local museums, as well as restaurants and shops, Hine said.

The museum attracts 200,000 people a year and has contributed about $600-million to Florida's economy since it opened in 1982, according to documents provided by the museum.

Members of the museum's board have considered dozens of other sites, but none of them fit their needs. Then, in June 2003, the city proposed tearing down the aging Times Arena and several city leaders began a movement to steer the museum to the site.

This spring, state lawmakers sought several hundred thousand dollars for detailed engineering, architectural and survey studies. The museum received $25,000 for a planning study.

In addition to voter approval, the deal needs about $6-million in state funding so the state can buy the current Dali site from the city. Lawmakers plan to ask for the money during the 2005 legislative session.

Most of the City Council enthusiastically embraced the plan.

"I think this is a real no-brainer," said council member Virginia Littrell.

Council member John Bryan said the move would create "the most significant change in the waterfront of St. Pete in the last four decades."

But a couple of members balked at the idea of selling valuable waterfront property without getting to keep the proceeds. Under the proposal, the $6-million from the state for the current Dali property would be applied to the cost of the new museum.

"I'm just wondering if university use of that land is really its highest and best use," asked council member Bill Foster.

Council chairman James Bennett expressed concern about the Albert Whitted Airport Advisory Task Force, which is working to create a new plan for the airport property. Part of the Bayfront Center sits on land that was designated for Albert Whitted.

"I just do not want to have another battle," Bennett said. "We need progress down there."

The council will have to hold public hearings and a formal vote before putting the referendum questions on the ballot.

Karen White, USF St. Petersburg's vice president and chief executive officer, said the proposal offers a tremendous opportunity for the rapidly growing campus.

"I see this as building on the tradition of the city caring for the university," she said, "and giving USF an option for expansion that we would not have in any other manner."

- Carrie Johnson can be reached at 727 892-2273 or cjohnson@sptimes.com

SALVADOR DALI MUSEUM

An architect's rendering shows the plan for the new 50,000-square-foot Salvador Dali Museum. It would be three stories tall. The art collection, valued at more than $500-million, draws 200,000 visitors annually.

REINVENTING THE DALI

THE SPACE: The proposal calls for a three-story, 50,000-square-foot museum on the Times Arena at Bayfront Center site.

WHAT MUST HAPPEN: The City Council must approve two referendum questions for the Nov. 9 ballot.

DALI IN ST. PETERSBURG: Valued at more than $500-million, the art collection draws 200,000 visitors annually.

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