Today's Letters: Don't overlook economic impact of the arts in a city

Published May 9, 2007

City plans to end subsidies May 4, story 

St. Petersburg's potential budget crisis requires tough choices. While the rollback of real estate taxes would be a welcome relief to shell-shocked homeowners, the reality is that we will feel equally taxed by our city's revenue shortfalls. We just won't feel the pinch in our pocketbook.

Many of the proposed "nondepartmental" cuts, at first glance, seem logical and appropriate. To be sure, our basic city services of public safety, infrastructure maintenance, water, etc., are obvious necessities. However, an immediate dismissal of all arts funding seems shortsighted and premature.

St. Petersburg has enjoyed a cultural renaissance. That renaissance has been fueled by the arts. Nationally, we are now considered an "arts destination." Museums, art galleries, symphonies and stage productions all add to the cultural attractions that have put St. Petersburg on the map.

Forget about the argument that could be made regarding quality of life, enhancement of the cultural soul of our city, the education and enlightenment that the arts bring to our youngest of citizens. Instead, let's consider the economic impact the arts have on St. Petersburg. Five years ago, studies proved that the arts were responsible for a $92-million positive economic impact on our city. Two years ago, in just four months, 220, 000 people visited the Museum of Fine Arts to see Dale Chihuly's art glass. Let's tally up tourist dollars in the form of sales tax, hotel occupancy, restaurant meals, retail purchases, vacation condos ... and the list goes on. The overall positive economic impact cannot be overstated.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker and our City Council do an incredible job, but their job may get a lot more difficult in the coming months. As they make the tough choices, I encourage them to consider what a positive impact the arts have had and will continue to have on our great city.

Terrence E. Brett, chairman, board of trustees, Arts Center of St. Petersburg

Preserve funds for the Pier Aquarium

As a lifelong resident of Pinellas County, I have seen changes that have benefited the population in many ways. The Pier has been with us for as long as I can remember and has served as a wonderful gathering spot for many a visitor. However, we've never had as fine an educational program, as well as one that is so pleasing to the eye, as we have now with the aquarium.

The Pier Aquarium offers a multitude of educational experiences for our schoolchildren as well as tourists.

I teach first grade and we utilize those programs each year. We all agree at my school that the field trip to the aquarium is the best. In addition to the area schools utilizing the fine programs there, USF students are able to make them part of their marine biology curriculum. This in itself is a plus in drawing more students to the USF campus.

Please reconsider dropping the funds for the aquarium. It would be a huge mistake.

Eleanor Whiteside, St. Petersburg

City plans to end subsidies May 4, story

Educational resource

The Pier Aquarium Inc. applies for and receives funding to support marine science students and graduates from Eckerd College, St. Petersburg College and the University of South Florida College of Marine Science. These talented individuals give scheduled and unscheduled aquarium tours, participate in educational programs and in exhibit development and perform maintenance on all live exhibits.

The $91, 000 investment by the city of St. Petersburg accounts for approximately 17 percent of the Pier Aquarium's budget; the remainder is matched with grants, admission fees and program fees. The Pier Aquarium has consistently reduced its funding requests from the city of St. Petersburg since initiating an admission fee in November 2003.

Annually, the Pier Aquarium shares information about the value and fragility of the local and global marine environment with more than 200, 000 Tampa Bay area students, educators, residents and visitors annually. Our interactive displays and aquarium exhibits as well as community satellite programs help promote the knowledge and understanding of the ocean, marine life, oceanic research, exploration and technology around the globe and in our own backyard.

Residents and tourists have gravitated to St. Petersburg because of the "quality of life" this city has to offer. The proposed cuts to our educational, cultural and social service institutions will have a significant impact on how we attract residents, tourists and businesses to St. Petersburg.

The Pier Aquarium urges the city of St. Petersburg to please reconsider eliminating all of its educational, cultural and social service partnerships as a result of the proposed tax reform alternatives. There must be a middle ground to which all partners involved can agree.

E. Howard Rutherford, executive director, the Pier Aquarium, St. Petersburg

What makes cities special is what we stand to lose May 5, commentary by Bill Foster

There's fat to cut

St. Petersburg City Council member Bill Foster should come by my house and watch all the city workers not work at the park. They must have 50 people here every day from dawn till dusk.

The parks and other activities will get by fine if the city would cut out all the pork when the big tax break comes. They will have to cut out some of the city's big ideas for the Pier and other projects.

Robert Luciano, St. Petersburg

City plans to end subsidies May 4, story

Keep our culture

My wife and I grew up in St. Petersburg, and after a career in the Navy which enabled us to live throughout the world, we chose to return to St. Petersburg for two main reasons: its ideal location and the easy access to excellent culture, resident-friendly events and the plethora of "things to do."

St. Petersburg offers a variety of culture and entertainment usually found only in much larger urban areas. I read with much disappointment that the City Council may have to toss out support for several of these fine city assets for a minuscule savings of less than 0.3 percent of its total budget. But at what larger cost to the fine organizations that will no longer benefit from these dollars?

Is it worth a savings of $1.8-million to begin the gradual erosion of our quality of life and excellent cultural reputation? Has the City Council truly considered the ripple effect of these subsidy cuts? Ironically, in the same issue was a story about the mayor's downtown WiFi contract with Earthlink. What is that costing the city and its taxpayers, most of whom will never use it?

I urge council members to reconsider the idea of cutting funds to these fine organizations and find other, less damaging ways to deal with potential budget cuts from Tallahassee.

C. M. Johnson, St. Petersburg

City plans to end subsidies May 4, story

What do we value?

How many little traffic islands in the middle of our streets are equal to the Florida Orchestra? St. Petersburg spends a great deal of money on marginally useful or entirely unnecessary projects while announcing that it likely will not fund cultural activities like museums and performing arts.

While I do not question that fire and police protection is necessary, the mayor says that roads and traffic have priority over culture. I'm not sure that's always wise. A few potholes can be tolerated far more easily than the loss of a great orchestra or a children's museum.

Tom Ziebold, St. Petersburg

We drive gas prices

If you want to cry about gas prices being too high, just look in mirror. For those who have made the choice to buy economical vehicles, kudos to you. For those of you who think a Hummer or a truck the size of a semi or a car that has a gas-guzzling V-8 helps to make gas prices go down, look in the mirror.

Did we all forget the simple fact of economics: supply and demand. As long as we continue to keep the demand for gasoline at an all-time high, the oil companies will just keep charging us what they want. We can all cry that our need for foreign oil is the reason. But it all goes back to supply and demand. If we start driving cars that use less gasoline, the demand will go down, oil companies will have more supply than they can get rid of and thus the price will lower.

Let's face it: If you owned a business, would you want the government dictating how much profit you can make? I think not. Free enterprise is the American way. So next time you cry about the high price of gas, look in the mirror.

M. Sperling, Clearwater