St. Pete IndyCar race in jeopardy (Update)

UPDATE This may come as a surprise to the St. Petersburg City Council, but staging an IndyCar road race is not the same thing as one of those old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies where someone shouts, "Hey I've got an idea! You get the cars. I'll get the drivers! We'll drop the checkered flag this weekend! It'll be great!"

But there was the City Council last week reveling in all its bumptious naivete, suggesting the annual Grand Prix of St. Petersburg ought to be put out for competitive bid, as if there are legions of folks who know how to do this stuff.

Council members got all pouty over a proposal by Mayor Rick Kriseman to extend the contract with Green Savoree Racing Promotions another three years to run the IndyCar race, which has certainly helped craft the city's image as an internationally cool place — for at least a week a year.

When you think of the television coverage, the arrival of thousands of beautiful people spending gobs of money in downtown St. Petersburg for the three-day event, it would seem the $150,000 in city services is a pretty good investment. Instead, the City Council got all whiney.

Council members demanded to see Green Savoree's books, kvetched about not getting more advance notice on next year's racing date and questioned whether an event that attracts 160,000 people to downtown St. Petersburg may have overstayed its welcome.

Memo to St. Petersburg City Council: Are you people crazy?

This is insane. The same council preventing the Tampa Bay Rays from exploring other stadium sites in a ham-handed and ill-informed effort to keep the team in St. Petersburg is now engaged in a ham-handed and ill-informed effort to push the promoters of a profitable and well-attended event out of a city where they want very much to stay.

It is certainly true Green Savoree could do a better job in working with other venues such as the Mahaffey Theater and Salvador Dalí Museum, which sit within the race route and have their operations disrupted during the Grand Prix events. And the city, which has never conducted a formal economic impact study of the race, would have an easier time justifying the $150,000 subsidy before the City Council with some better numbers.

Still, common sense would tell you an annual event that attracts 160,000 visitors, fills hotel rooms and restaurants, and showcases St. Petersburg to an international audience has to be a pretty good idea.

And yet, instead of working with Green Savoree like adults, the City Council decided to channel its inner Podunk.

Does the yearly race disrupt city life for a few days? Sure. But the inconvenience is the price to pay for any city wanting to enhance its profile. The Gasparilla season in Tampa upends Bayshore Boulevard for more than three days annually. Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in New York City practically shuts down Manhattan. And Mardi Gras takes over New Orleans.

Meanwhile St. Petersburg City Council members Jim Kennedy, Wengay Newton and Amy Foster have decided to get all huffy over an event that lures 160,000 wallets to the city.

Green Savoree officials candidly explained to the City Council there are few companies with the expertise to organize IndyCar events like the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which Wengay Newton misconstrued as an ultimatum by the company.

"I hate to get scare tactics," the council member said.

Here's what's scary — a St. Petersburg City Council populated by grandstanders willing to risk a multimillion dollar annual event. When it comes to rationality, these folks are running on fumes. Daniel Ruth/


Sounds like someone who wants to see IndyCar dead is greasing the pockets of the St. Petersburg politicians in an effort to kill off the race. We have seen this many times before.

Editorial: Imagine this. For a modest investment of $150,000, the city of St. Petersburg draws 160,000 race fans to its downtown waterfront. Tampa Bay gets tens of thousands of hotel nights, millions in economic impact and hours of worldwide television exposure for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Yet the City Council with a chip on its shoulder questions whether it is worth the money, offends the well-respected race organizers and jeopardizes the future of an event that took years to establish and that other cities would beg to attract.

Once again, the City Council sent the wrong signal this week to anyone outside St. Petersburg with the sophistication and financial means to bring signature events or developments to the city. A discussion of Mayor Rick Kriseman's plans to extend Green Savoree Racing Promotions' contract by three years turned sour. It reinforced the impression that this council can be its own worst enemy, too often driven by parochialism and an irrational fear of being exploited by more savvy private interests.

There are legitimate issues to discuss with Grand Prix promoters. Their decision to run the race earlier next year should have been talked over first with local hotels, museums and other businesses caught by surprise. But the city and the promoters are essentially partners, and these are not insurmountable issues.

Instead, the council meeting dissolved into attacking the race promoters, suggesting the contract go out for bid and floating the notion that somehow St. Petersburg no longer needs all of that free television exposure of its gorgeous waterfront. IndyCar has only a handful of the popular street races, and Green Savoree promotes both the St. Petersburg and Toronto races. Long Beach, Calif., has had a street race for decades. Boston gets its first IndyCar street race next Labor Day. But to council member Amy Foster, St. Petersburg apparently has moved beyond cities such as Boston and Toronto in cultural richness and may no longer need a race that draws international attention.

This is not just one bad day at City Hall. Remember the shabby treatment of renowned architects who pitched innovative visions for a new pier. Grand Prix critics such as council members Jim Kennedy and Wengay Newton also needlessly attack the credibility of the Tampa Bay Rays ownership, block the team from looking for new stadium sites and prevent a $1 billion redevelopment of the Tropicana Field site.

City Council members should ensure the city is fairly treated and reasonably spends public money. They should raise concerns when their constituents are blindsided. But this is not the 1980s, when downtown St. Petersburg was desolate and desperate to court any developer with shiny renderings or promoters of minor car races. The city is fortunate to attract interest from sophisticated business people with proven track records and financial means. The City Council should cultivate those relationships rather than poison them.

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is a tremendous asset that should be preserved. There is no reason to seek another race promoter. The differences should be resolved and the contract should be extended. If council members still question the value of an IndyCar street race, they should call Toronto or Boston.

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