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St. Petersburg is a worthy CART venue

 by Paul Josephson
December 14, 2001

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St. Petersburg track.  See images below for a lap around the track

A few days ago, I visited St. Petersburg, Florida, site of a proposed CART race starting in 2003. I gathered some public information pertaining to the race that I've summarized in this report. While doing so, I realized that the information I collected could be used as a model for other cities that want to hold CART races.  Leave it up to Chris Pook to do things first-class and make St. Pete a reality.

In a November 29, 2001 memo to the City Council of St. Petersburg, Florida, Mayor Rick Baker announced that his Administration had reached agreement in principal to host the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (GPSP). This City of St. Petersburg will benefit enormously by having the race staging area. The City's name and its downtown skyline will be broadcast on television networks around the world.

The new race is being organized by the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, Inc., (GPALB) which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Dover Downs Entertainment, Inc., (NYSE: DVD). Tom Begley will work on behalf of the City with the GPALB to conduct the GPSP. Key dates regarding the agreement are: a.) January 31, 2002 - execution of the agreement between the City and the GPALB; b.) March 31, 2002 - deadline for GPSP to enter into a sanctioning agreement with CART; and c.) February 28, 2003 - deadline for conducting the initial race. Right now, a firm race date has not been established, but it will occur sometime in February 2003. The contract that GPALB has with the City calls for having a race each year for 5 years. The GPSP requested a 12-year agreement; however, due to City Charter restrictions, an agreement longer than 5 years can't be approved without a referendum. The Letter of Intent for the race provides for additional terms of 4 years and 3 years at the sole discretion of the City. Having a long-term commitment for a new racing venue with the potential to extend the GPSP to 9 or 12 years is certainly good news for CART.

Cars will race along waterfront just like at Monaco

Looking south along waterfront.  In the foreground is the posh Renaissance Vinoy & Golf Club

The Pier

Turn 8 at Pioneer Park

Downtown waterfront

Mahaffey Theater at Bayfront Center
Photos courtesy www.stpete.org

The GPSP indicated that its preliminary capital investment will be about $6.2 million, $3.75 million of which will be to construct grandstands. As Autoracing1.com indicated earlier this week, it would be in the best interests of the GPSP and the parties organizing the ALMS race in Miami and, hopefully, a joint CART race, to enter into an agreement about sharing the grandstands and splitting the cost. Other possible infrastructure assets, such as fencing, could also be shared and split with Miami through an agreement with and proper planning by both cities.

The City decided to shift the original racecourse in from Tropicana Field (where the Tampa Bay Devil Rays baseball team plays) to the downtown waterfront area so that the City could showcase St. Petersburg at its best. The course layout will be unique it that it will combine the characteristics of CART's races in Long Beach and Cleveland into one circuit. About half of the course will be run through the downtown streets of St. Petersburg, and the other half will be run at the Albert Whitted Municipal Airport which is adjacent to the City. (See the track map above.) The City has previous experience from the 1980's in holding races along its waterfront, but the new course will have less of an impact on adjacent residential uses and will not restrict access to marinas and the Pier, a popular downtown site.

The race pit lane area will be developed in and around the Airport's proposed taxi-way "D", north or runway 6-24 (east/west runway) which will be used for the circuit. Although no formal plans have been made regarding the Paddock location, my observations from walking around the proposed site would place the Paddock area just west of Turn 10, which is a parking lot, and between Turns 10 and 11. Most grandstands will be built on airport open spaces behind the pits extending to Turn 2 with additional grandstands built around Pioneer Park by Turns 7 and 8.

The race agreement also calls for upgrades to the airport taxiway, parking lots, and City streets to normal Grand Prix racetrack standards. I found the City streets that will be used for the circuit to be well paved (primarily asphalt), flat, smooth, and wide. The only exception is a tight area through Turns 3, 4, and 5 that cut through the parking lot for Al Lang Field. Also, the exit from the airport at Turn 1 onto 1st St. SE needs improvement.

Street closures will be in effect from 6:00 PM Wednesday through 6:00 AM Monday during race weekend. Detailed access scheduling requirements will be made public by GPSP 180 days prior to the race. The course construction schedule is designed to minimize impacts along shoreline areas by the circuit. Special effort will be made to ensure that patrons will have access to marina slips. Although plans don't currently call for construction of bridges, I imagine that some will have to be built such as to maintain access to the marina.

The GPSP agreement calls for booking the Bayfront Center from Monday before the race through Wednesday following the race. I anticipate that a variety of entertainment events will be held there during race week. Also, the GPSP will provide temporary floating docks in the basin adjacent to the lot opposite the Bayfront Center for yacht patrons who want to tie up and watch the race from their yachts. Cruise ships dock at the Port of St. Petersburg south of the airport.

The GPSP will require access to the Albert Whitted Airport for setup purposes 10 days prior to the first practice on Friday. All equipment will be removed by 6:00 PM on Wednesday following the race. It's anticipated that runway 6-24 will be closed for flight operations for up to 7 days, from 6:00 AM on the Wednesday before the race to 6:00 AM Tuesday after the race. Access will be maintained for FAA Tower personnel because runway 18-36 (the north/south runway) will remain open. FAA approval of the operational changes will be required. The GPSP is anticipating that getting FAA approval will not be a major problem because the races at Cleveland's Burke Lakefront Airport have been held for 22 years, and races at the airport at Sebring have been held for 49 years. 

The economic impact to the City will be significant in many ways and falls into three categories. First, the City will receive direct beneficial impacts resulting from the event (e.g., hotel room nights generated by race team members, spectators, corporate sponsors, and the media; and spending on food, beverages, rental cars and other direct expenditures). Probably the largest, most direct impact will be the number of hotel rooms required for race attendees. It's anticipated that at least 20,500 room nights will be required to accommodate race attendees during the weekend. Second, permanent and seasonal jobs will be generated by the event. In addition to a limited number of full-time jobs associated with producing a Grand Prix race, several part-time jobs are also created. The Grand Prix of Long Beach, for example, provides for about 650 part-time jobs. Finally, the City will benefit from the media/marketing exposure generated by the event. Having a Grand Prix race also supports existing jobs in the tourism/visitor industry and the restaurant industry through direct spending related to the event.

Significant economic impact is also expected as a result of national international television broadcast exposure, and other media coverage. Domestic TV coverage will be on CBS and Speedvision (now owned by FOX network). FOX is in the process of upgrading its Speedvision broadcast capability and plans to equal ESPN standards by 2003. Overseas television distribution in Europe is through Eurovision; Latin America, Australia, the Middle East and the Orient are all handled with direct agreements between CART and the respective national television carriers. The Grand Prix of Long Beach is broadcast in 20 languages and is shown in over 185 countries and territories, resulting in approximately 43 million viewers per race. Although initial exposure to the new race in St. Petersburg may not equal Long Beach's numbers, it's expected to have a major, positive effect on the City over time through worldwide television exposure.

In sum, the City believes that holding a CART race will greatly benefit the City by improving the City's identify and positioning in the market place (i.e., branding). This should help to showcase the City and boost the City's business recruitment efforts through new promotional and marketing opportunities brought about by the racing event.

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Scenes from around the St. Pete track.  We were not allowed access onto the
airport to take photos of that portion of the track.  Keep in mind that some sections need to be widened before CART gets there.
Photos copyright AutoRacing1.com and Paul Josephson

About St. Petersburg (much of this is courtesy of www.stpete.org)
St. Petersburg excels in offering a variety of outdoor sports and recreation activities to please almost every taste. In brief, you can tee off at one of Pinellas County's 40 golf courses, charter a deep-sea fishing boat, and participate in pari-mutual sports like greyhound racing and thoroughbred horse racing. St. Petersburg has been called the "fastest emerging sports capital of the South" (by Cable News Network), with X-Games trials, the annual St. Anthony's Triathlon attended by athletes from all over the world, the First America Running Festival and more.

St. Petersburg has a population of 248,232. It has 128 miles of shoreline and 28 miles of beaches. I have visited this part of Florida many times, and I can say that many parts of the Gulf of Mexico side of Florida have some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Most beaches in this area are very wide and flat. The sand is white, very fine, and clean. I'd say that 99% of the beaches, such as in Sarasota (45 minutes to the south) is free of seaweed, rocks, and seashells, so walking along the waterline is a truly enjoyable experience. Also, seas are usually only a foot or two (sorry, not much surfing along this coast!!), so wading is ideal. Sunsets are gorgeous.

St. Petersburg has a great collection of museums, galleries, and cultural attractions. More than 9 million visitors enjoy over 900 events a year, ranging from the Festival of States and art in the park, to major league baseball, a top-ranked triathlon, and powerboat races. Restaurants range from seafood and traditional to French and Thai.

One of St. Petersburg more renowned museums is the Salvador Dali museum. It contains the world's most comprehensive collection of Dali's artwork. The Pier, which is the City's most recognized waterfront landmark has 26 shops, 4 restaurants, a food court, pirate adventure and dolphin cruises, an aquarium, a Hands-On Museum, watersports rentals, miniature golf and an observation deck.

The Bayfront Center faces part of the course and holds the Mahaffey Theater that seats 1,990. This Theater has hosted concerts by Elvis Presley, Liberace, Pavrotti, and Liza Minelli, among others. The St. Petersburg Times Arena at the Bayfront Center holds 8,000, while the Sun Pavilion Room at the Center can be used for special events.

St. Petersburg and the surrounding greater Tampa metropolitan area has a population of 2.3 million. The area is host to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (major league baseball), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (NFL football), Tampa Bay Mutiny (soccer), Tampa Bay Lighting (NHL hockey), and Tampa Bay Storm (arena football).

St. Petersburg History Factoids (courtesy of www.stpete.org)
Was explored by the Spanish adventurer Juan Ponce de Leon, who arrived here in 1521 while searching for a fountain of youth. He was followed by explorers Pantilo de Narvaez in 1528 and Hernando de Soto in 1539. 
Was explored by pioneers in the 1800s including General John Williams who bought 1700 acres here in 1875, and by Hamilton Disston who sparked St. Pete's first great real estate promotion when he bought four million acres of land from the State in 1881. Disston also built the first hotel and stores in the area. 
Was promoted by pioneer and railroad magnate Peter Demens who began successful efforts to bring a railroad system here in 1888. The town was called St. Petersburg and named after Demens whose birthplace was St. Petersburg, Russia. 
Began tourist excursions in 1890 when the population was 273. The Orange Belt Railroad brought them to the new town. 
One of St. Petersburg's first industries that helped its economy was shipping huge quantities of mackerel and snapper to cities along the eastern seaboard using the Orange Belt railroad. By the 1890s, nearly three million pounds of fish were shipped annually. 
The St. Louis Browns tried out the City for spring training and found a home in 1914. 
Young aviator Tony Jannus made history on January 1, 1914, when he flew the world's first scheduled passenger service airline flight from St. Petersburg's downtown yacht basin to Tampa. 

Partial List of Hotels, Inns & Bed & Breakfasts
Bay Gables B&B 727-822-8855
The Bayboro Inn and Hunt Room 727-823-0498
Inn at the Bay Bed & Breakfast 727-822-1700
La Veranda Bed & Breakfast Inn 727-824-9997
Lee Manor Inn 727-894-3248
Mansion House Inn 800-274-7520
Pier Hotel 727-822-7500
Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club 727-894-1000
Sunset Bay Inn & Breakfast 727-896-6701
Vinoy House 727-827-4855
Other Hotels: http://www.stpete.org/about.htm and click on Yahoo's Hotel Listing in St. Petersburg

Useful Phone Numbers:
Action Center (general inquiries and City information) 727-893-7111
Bayfront Center Box Office 727-892-5767
Entertainment Hotline 727-892-5700
Festivals/Special Events 727-893-7734
Marina 727-893-7329
St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau 800-345-6710

Visit the City's web site at www.stpete.org.

The author can be contacted at feedback@autoracing1.com

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