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Scott Makes Changes to Tourist Tax at Clearwater Marine Aquarium

Gov. Rick Scott tours the Clearwater Marine Aquarium before signing a bill that will allow facilities like the aquarium to use tourist tax dollars for construction projects.

Yes, Gov. Rick Scott has seen Dolphin Tale.

So, it seemed when he started character name dropping during an economic development and tourism discussion Friday at the . 

Scott really seemed . Who he vowed to get to meet before leaving. 

He also talked about the importance of the aquarium and others throughout the state that will be able to get a slice of the tourist tax pie after signing a bill that changes how that money can be spent.

“It’s a great story here what’s happening here with Winter and Rufus,” Scott said. “That’s the types of story you want. It's good for the community and good for Florida.”

The bill allows for repairs, improvements and construction for publicly owned venues, or those run by non-profits, including convention centers, arenas and museums using money generated from county tourist taxes. The tax money will now be able to be used for aquariums too.

The change could also help 24 other aquariums throughout the state.

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Two green shirted summer campers stood next to the stingray touch tank as Scott started his tour of the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.

“Is that the real governor?” one boy asked.
“That’s the real governor,” the other answered. 

Scott tried to blend in with the other nearly 3,000 other anticipated visitors to the Clearwater Marine Aquarium during his tour Friday.

Some of the marine wildlife at the aquarium seemed excited about the governor’s visit.

Nicholas, a dolphin who was rescued during Christmas Eve 2002, put on a show for a handful of visitors including Scott. The dolphin, which has severe burn scars on his back, danced and swam in a pool, eventually doing an aerial flip which soaked the governor and his entourage.

"The splash was unintentional," said Krista Rosado, spokeswoman with the aquarium.


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The tailless dolphin is the center of a $2 billion economic engine.

Winter is a piece of the tourism puzzle that attracts 86 million visitors to Florida each year. And tourism in the Tampa Bay area has spiked directly because of the Dolphin Tale movie, Yates said. 

Her story is the catalyst to an expected $2 billion economic impact over the next five years in Pinellas County according to a USF study that should be released in three weeks, Yates said.

Yates said the 20-page study took about nine months to put together. It used detailed information culled from different economic indicators since the movie's release in November.

Since the release of , a movie based on the story of Winter the Dolphin, visitor numbers at the aquarium have .

Yates is not sure how much, or when any of the tourist tax money will be able to be used. Much of it is spent as part of a deal with the Tampa Bay Rays. 

But Yates does want to be able to secure more funding for expansion and other construction projects for the aquarium.

“All we want to do is put ourselves in the mix,” Yates said.

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is  to support construction of a new facility that adds stadium style-seating to the dolphin pool and will double the sea turtle rehabilitation facilities.

Under construction for the last few months, the Big Jacobson Education Center, named after Dick Jacobson who donated $1 million to the aquarium.

The wing will house administrative offices and education classrooms. On the east side of the building construction of a new lobby is going to start soon too, Yates said.

***

Scott's tour ended with the ceremonial signing of the bill. As Scott started his speech Winter also chimed in with her well known squeal.

“Winter’s speaking now,” Scott said, stopping briefly.

He took a seat that resembled a movie set director’s chair behind a large wooden desk. On the desk was a cup full of pens, a stuffed Winter plush toy and the bill to sign.

After holding the tailless toy, Scott grabbed a pen and signed the changes into law.

“Hopefully there will be a sequel and there will be more stars,” Scott said during the bill signing.

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