Thousands of racers signed up to run St. Petersburg's first Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon on Sunday have been stunned to find out they'll have to pay $15 if they park at Tropicana Field on Friday and Saturday to pick up their race packet at the free Health and Fitness Expo.
Landing the hugely popular running series was considered quite a coup by St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster, who pushed for the city to provide $30,000 in services such as police and trash pickup and for the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Sports Commission to spend $100,000 to promote the race. The Tampa Bay Rays allowed the race to hold the expo at Tropicana Field for free, a perk worth about $60,000.
The race organizer, Competitor Group Inc., sent out a notice to runners this week that the $15 parking fee will apply for the expo on Friday and Saturday, and it suggested participants use alternate lots, street parking or the downtown trolly to avoid the fee.
"It's just one of those things, I guess," said Dan Cruz, a spokesman for the Rock 'N' Roll Half Marathon. "We are using their space and they are charging for parking."
Joe Kubicki, the city's director of transportation and parking, said the parking fee is between the Tampa Bay Rays and the promoter. Some events held there include parking in their admission fee or negotiate the fee in other ways. The marching band competition held during Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend, for example, didn't charge for parking.
A Rays spokesman elaborated on the difference in parking fees. "The Rock 'N' Roll Marathon Expo is a commercial enterprise and, like all for-profit events at Tropicana Field, its promoters are required to pay a parking fee," said spokesman Rick Vaughn. "This is standard within the industry and was agreed upon last fall. The Martin Luther King Jr., event is a city-sanctioned, charity event and is not subject to the same guidelines."
Kubicki said he's been fielding angry phone calls and he's been directing them to alternate street parking. He expects private lots likely will pop up with cheaper prices, like they do for baseball games.
"It's such a wonderful event we have coming here, I really hate to have them feel this way and get a bad first impression," Kubicki said. "They can park around the Trop instead of in the Trop. There's a lot of street parking."
By this weekend, they expect about 10,000 to have signed up for the race. All will have to show up at the expo because there will be no race packets given out on Sunday. You must show a photo ID to receive your race number and timing chip at the Health and Fitness Expo.
As for parking on the day of the race, the organizers are offering online a parking and shuttle pass for only $10. For those who don't want to park there, they can get dropped off or use the shuttle at a cost of $5.
The city pursued this race because the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon series is expected to draw thousands of participants from out of town. They are attracted by a festive race that features a live band jamming at every mile along the course and a free concert by chart-topper Flo Rida at the finish in North Shore Park.
The mayor expected a return of $12 million into local coffers from the visitors.
The race's website has parking information, including suggestions such as parking at the BayWalk garage and then taking the 50-cent trolley to Tropicana Field. See runrocknroll.competitor.com/st-petersburg/expo.