Clearwater Marine Aquarium seeks tourism tax dollars - FOX 13 News

Clearwater Marine Aquarium seeks tourism tax dollars

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The Tampa Bay Rays now have competition for a huge amount of money that could finance a new baseball stadium. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is asking for some of the tourism tax dollars that currently pay debt on Tropicana Field.

"Obviously, the money for Tropicana Field will end in 2016, so there is going to be some money available there," CMA's Frank Hibbard told Clearwater city council members Tuesday.

Later, Hibbard told FOX 13 News "I'm hoping that we could see a quarter to a half a cent of that bed tax money come for this project over a specific time frame."

The "stadium tax" is now one percent on hotel, campground and condominium rentals and generates about $5.5 million a year. It has always been assumed the tax could be extended if the Rays decide to build a new stadium in Pinellas County, but to date, the Rays have refused to consider stadium sites in Pinellas without also looking in Hillsborough County.

A spokesman said the team would not comment on the new competition for tourism tax dollars.

County commission chairman Ken Welch confirmed CMA has requested tourism tax funding, and added other entities are also looking at the same cash flow. Welch said the big unknown is whether the state and federal governments will continue funding beach renourishment projects, considered the lifeblood of Pinellas County's multi-billion dollar tourism industry.

If the county has to pay for beach projects by itself, there will be little, if any, money left over.

Hibbard declined to say whether the aquarium stimulates more tourism spending than baseball.

"The argument could be made, but I'm not jumping into that fray," Hibbard said. However, both entities have offered economic impact studies on that very subject. In 2008, when the Rays proposed building a new stadium on St. Petersburg's downtown waterfront, its study claimed baseball tourists directly spend $107 million a year. A similar study prepared for CMA estimated direct spending by its guests will reach $580 million this year.

The proposed downtown Clearwater Marine Aquarium would be built on the land now occupied by Clearwater City Hall. That use would require voter approval. Wednesday night, the city council will consider placing the question on the November 2013 ballot.

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