ST. PETERSBURG — With record number of tourists flocking to Pinellas, county leaders recently made up to $4.5 million per year in bed tax money available for projects like museums, convention centers and auditoriums that will further drive tourism.
A new aquarium in Clearwater and a BMX facility in Oldsmar are just two of the projects anticipated to be in the queue for bed-tax funding by the time the October deadline for applications expires.
Now, you can add a new proposed arts and crafts museum in St. Petersburg to that list.
A nonprofit group behind the proposed Museum of the American Arts and Crafts say they will apply for bed taxes toward construction of a new 90,000-square-foot building planned for Third Avenue North.
The building is estimated to cost upward of $35 million.
The proposed museum would house Rudy Ciccarello’s collection of more than 1,300 artifacts, including carved oak chairs, copper beer steins, pottery and tiles from the American arts and crafts period that ran from about 1900 to 1930.
A rendering of the building depicts a four-story modernist structure that would give the city’s downtown another distinctive arts destination alongside the Dalí Museum, the St. Petersburg Museum of Fine Arts and the Chihuly Collection.
“This is a significant museum and a big investment in downtown St. Petersburg,” said Dave Goodwin, the city’s planning and economic development director. “The city is very supportive of what they’re doing. We want to help.”
Developers have not decided how much bed-tax funding they will seek, spokesman Tom Magoulis said.
The tax dollars are available to nonprofits or municipalities for projects that will draw more visitors to the county. Applications are assessed by the Tourism Development Council and approved by the Pinellas County Commission.
Bed taxes helped the Dalí Museum bridge a funding deficit for its new building next to the Mahaffey Theater. The TDC in 2010 approved funding of $500,000 annually over a five-year period beginning 2015, a total that was matched by the city.
Matching funds for the arts and crafts museum likely would come from the nonprofit group museum this time, Goodwin said.
The museum may be the city officials’ only opportunity to direct bed taxes into the city. St. Petersburg has a dearth of shovel-ready projects, leaving elected officials fearing the city will miss out.
Perhaps the most pressing need in the city is to replace or rebuild the aging Al Lang Stadium. But the future of that stadium is tied up in the development of the downtown waterfront master plan, expected to take another year to complete.
“We’re in this two-year window limbo on Al Lang,” council member Charlie Gerdes said. “We’re struggling.”
Bed taxes have drawn attention recently with roughly $6 million in annual taxes due to be freed up when the county pays off its share of Tropicana Field construction bonds in September 2015.
But only a portion of the 5 percent tax on hotel and lodging stays can be used for projects like a stadium that is home to a professional sports franchise.
Not wanting to miss potential funding options, city officials have asked the county for clarification as to whether Al Lang would be excluded from some funding categories because the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team is a principal tenant.
“If would be better to get in on the first wave before all those dollars get allocated,” said Joe Zeoli, managing director of the city development administration. “They are talking about allocations for long-range projects. We want to make sure that, if we are eligible, we have a place at the table.”
Longer term, city officials also are trying to figure out when Tropicana Field may need major renovations such as a new roof or air-conditioning system that could be funded with bed taxes. Although keen to move, the Rays have a use-agreement to play at the stadium through 2027.
“We’re trying to put a price on those improvements to make sure we can forecast some of those longer range needs that are out there,” Zeoli said.