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Deal keeps the Dali for a long, long time

If all goes as planned, the museum would pay $1 per year to lease a new site near the Mahaffey Theater for 99 years.

By CRISTINA SILVA, Times Staff Writer
Published October 14, 2007


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St. Petersburg- In 100 years, one can only guess what St. Petersburg will look like, but at least one thing seems to be certain: the Salvador Dali Museum will still be here.

City officials are set to wrap up a deal that would lease waterfront land next to the Albert Whitted Municipal Airport to the museum for a 99-year period. The museum will pay the city $1 a year in rent and will cover all expenses associated with the property, including any building repairs and insurance fees.

In exchange, city officials say the museum will help contribute to the area's growing reputation as a cultural destination. The museum will sit alongside a new waterfront park at the airport and across from the recently renovated Mahaffey Theater.

The lease should be finalized soon and will most likely be put up for approval before the City Council during its Oct. 18 meeting, said Rick Mussett, city development administrator. If approved, a public hearing would be held Nov. 1, he said.

The deal is three years in the making. Voters approved a referendum in 2004 allowing the city to lease the land to the museum for 99 years.

City and museum officials said the long lease reflects a commitment from both sides to keep Dali's work in St. Petersburg. The only other extensive collection of Dali work is located in his native country of Spain.

"This is our permanent home," said Hank Hine, executive director of the Dali, during a council workshop to review the lease Thursday. "We have no interest in being anywhere else."

The Dali opened in St. Petersburg in 1984. More than 200,000 visitors arrive at the museum each year.

The new, larger exhibit space should attract even more visitors, said museum officials.

"We are not a subsidized entity of the city and we never want to be," said Jim Martin, a St. Petersburg attorney who represents the museum.

The lease states the city will use the land in front of the museum during public events such as the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. If the museum building is damaged or destroyed, the museum has six months to repair it. The museum will not be allowed to move its full collection outside of St. Petersburg.

The Dali currently sits on city-owned property on Third Street S next to the USF St. Petersburg campus. City officials said they will most likely give that land to USF, which has long expressed interest in expanding its campus.

Council Chairman James Bennett said the new museum will help create a vibrant entertainment district in downtown St. Petersburg.

"Any other city would be salivating to get this," he said. "It's going to be very exciting."

Cristina Silva can be reached at csilva@sptimes.com or 727 893-8846.

[Last modified October 13, 2007, 22:00:46]


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