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Election 2004

Waterfront overhaul begs for answers

For one, the proposed Mahaffey Theater and Dali Museum projects aren't intertwined, St. Petersburg officials say.

By Times Staff Writer
Published October 25, 2004

Mayor Rick Baker is proposing sweeping changes that could shape the future of the downtown waterfront.

Today, the City Council will meet in a workshop to discuss a proposal to give businessman Bill Edwards control of the Mahaffey Theater at Bayfront Center and an adjacent outdoor concert venue for five years in exchange for an $8-million contribution and a $2.35-million loan.

The loan would be forgiven if the city approved a second five-year agreement. City officials are still working on the details.

The other big change: On Nov. 2, voters will decide whether to allow the Salvador Dali Museum to move to the spot now occupied by the Times Arena at Bayfront Center, which is scheduled for demolition.

Voters also will be asked to sign off on a proposal to transfer the former museum site to the state for use by the University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

The broad proposals have raised questions. The St. Petersburg Times sat with Rick Mussett, development administrator, and David Metz, director of downtown enterprise facilities, for some answers:

Is the proposed move of the Dali Museum related to the Mahaffey Theater proposal?

While the projects will be next to one another and share an outdoor courtyard, they are not intertwined, Mussett said. Voting on the Dali Museum move won't affect the Mahaffey project, he said.

What happens if voters approve the Dali Museum's move and the state doesn't come up with the funding to make it happen?

The Nov. 2 referendums are "enabling legislation," which means voters would only give permission for the project to commence, not sign off on it, Mussett said. If the referendums pass, the city still has to approve the lease with the Dali Museum. In the meantime, the arena land will become green space after the building is gone.

As officials consider the Mahaffey Theater proposal, why isn't the city asking for a clause that would allow it to keep some of the profits if Edwards makes money?

Performing arts venues are not typically moneymakers, Metz said. The Mahaffey has never made money, nor has Vinoy Park as a concert venue, he said. So the likelihood of Edwards turning a sizable profit in five years is slim. Also, since he is taking a risk by agreeing to sink money into the venture, it's only fair he has some chance at a reward, Metz said. If profits skyrocket, the contract can be renegotiated after five years.

The city still would pay $1.47-million per year to help operate the Mahaffey. What was the subsidy before and how much would the city pay if Edwards wasn't involved?

City budget officials did not break down the subsidy for the Bayfront Center by facilities, which includes both the Mahaffey and the arena, so it's hard to tell exactly how much the city paid each year just for the theater. The subsidy for the entire center was $2-million. Eliminating the arena won't be a huge savings because the city still would have expenses the two facilities used to share, such as heating and air-conditioning. The subsidy without the arena would probably be about $1.5-million per year, Mussett said.

The cost of renovating the theater and creating the outdoor concert venue is estimated at $19.4-million. Without Edwards' help, the city would have to borrow money. Including the debt service, city officials estimate the project would cost about $15-million after five years, and $40-million after 13 years.

How many concerts would be held at the outdoor venue and how many people could it accommodate?

The number of concerts is still being discussed, but, Mussett said, "the overall objective is to make the park accessible to the public a majority of the time." He estimated the venue will hold 10,000 to 12,000 people.

Where would concertgoers park?

There are some parking facilities around the Bayfront Center that people will be able to use, including the facility's parking garage. City officials have suggested adding another story to the garage that would hold 300 more cars. Edwards would be required to submit a parking plan, but the city still needs to study this issue further, Metz said.

What kind of concerts will take place at the outdoor park?

That's hard for city officials to say because it will be up to Edwards as the manager, Mussett said. For First Amendment reasons, the city can't place limits on who can perform at a public facility, he said.

Does the Federal Aviation Administration need to approve the deal?

A portion of the Bayfront Center property and the area earmarked for the new outdoor venue sits on Albert Whitted Airport property. So the FAA will need to sign off on any boundary changes or nonairport uses, Metz said. The city has started preliminary discussions with the agency.

Why didn't the city open the project to competitive bidding?

There's nothing stopping someone else from making an offer, Mussett said. But the city is not required to open it for bidding, in part because this is a deal for management, not development.

[Last modified October 25, 2004, 04:08:35]

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