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St. Petersbueg: Dali plan is closer to state money

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Dali plan is closer to state money

The Senate budgets $4-million for museum's move, but Bush may be reluctant to support it.

CARRIE JOHNSON and STEVE BOUSQUET

Published April 2, 2005

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TALLAHASSEE - The Salvador Dali Museum is moving closer to the $20-million needed for a new 50,000-square-foot building on the former site of the Bayfront Center Arena.

Sen. Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, put $4-million for the project in the Senate budget, the first step toward securing state money.

But the House was not as generous, setting aside $1-million. Rep. Kim Berfield, R-Clearwater, said she is confident the House will find more money.

"Our goal, hopefully, is that we will be able to get that up to the $4-million" in later negotiations with the Senate, Berfield said.

Museum officials want $4-million from the state for this year and next. The remainder of the $20-million would be raised from private sources and by selling the current building.

St. Petersburg City Council members think they hold a political trump card.

Last year, the Legislature asked the council to rename the portion of Interstate 275 that runs from the Howard Frankland Bridge to the Sunshine Skyway after William C. Cramer, Florida's first Republican congressman since Reconstruction.

The council favored the name St. Petersburg Parkway. But several members said they were warned by local legislators their projects wouldn't be well received if they didn't make the change. Cramer's son, William C. Cramer Jr., is a close friend of House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City.

The council eventually agreed to call it the St. Petersburg Parkway/William C. Cramer Memorial Highway. But the new name doesn't take effect until after the legislative session, and some council members threatened to oppose the switch if the Dali isn't properly funded.

"I would be hard-pressed to support it," said council member John Bryan. "I don't like doing that kind of business, but the Dali is so important to our downtown waterfront. Sometimes you have to push and shove."

But the Legislature isn't the project's only hurdle. Gov. Jeb Bush has traditionally opposed spending state money on projects such as the Dali not recommended by a state agency.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker met with Bush earlier this week to discuss the project and is optimistic he will support it.

"Obviously, this is a very important issue for our city," Baker said. "The governor was very inquisitive. He wanted to know more about it and we hope he will be in favor of it."

But Bush said he is undecided. The Senate and the House must reconcile their budget differences before sending a spending plan to the governor for approval.

"To use a baseball analogy, I get to wait until the bottom of the ninth to make a decision," Bush said. "It's a great museum. My wife and I have been actively involved in it. But I've got a pretty consistent record about line items in the budget, so we'll see."

Bush quickly added that he has been "not completely consistent, though," suggesting he is open to persuasion.

In November, St. Petersburg voters overwhelmingly supported a referendum to allow the Dali to build new quarters on the Bayfront Center Arena property, which was demolished in December.

Voters also agreed to allow the University of South Florida St. Petersburg to take over the former museum site to provide room to expand.

Dali officials have searched for a larger, safer location for the museum for years. The museum's current one-story waterfront location puts it at risk of damage from high winds or hurricanes.

The new museum will be designed by Tampa architect Yann Weymouth. The top floor will be 20,000 square feet, offering twice as much exhibition space as the current building.

St. Petersburg officials say the new museum would be a huge boon for the city, and Baker isn't taking any chances. If state funding falls through, Baker plans to ask U.S. Rep. C.W. "Bill" Young to appropriate $6-million in the federal budget to buy the Dali's current headquarters for use as a homeland security hub. The Dali would then use the federal money to build its new museum.

Harry Glenn, Young's chief of staff, said no action has been taken on Baker's proposal.

http://www.sptimes.com/2005/04/02/news_pf/..._closer_t.shtml

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