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Downtown St. Petersburg businesses ready for Firestone Grand Prix

ST. PETERSBURG — It has been a decade since the Grand Prix first took over downtown, bringing the roar of IndyCar and thousands of fans to the Sunshine City.

Though the event is just three days, construction of the 1.8-mile waterfront track begins more than a month ahead of time, creating a familiar headache — or boon — for downtown businesses.

"It's part of March now," said Pete Boland, manager of Courigan's Irish Pub.

Courigan's lies along turn seven of the race route, a loop that runs roughly from Albert Whitted Airport to First Street S to Pioneer Park and back. Located in Bayfront Tower, the pub was affected by track construction long before race weekend.

Courigan's shut down Monday through Wednesday this week because business takes a dive amid the last-minute setup. "There's just not a whole lot of foot traffic once the track goes up," Boland said.

The pub reopened Thursday and Boland expects business to pick up at least a little over the weekend, providing the rain holds off. The business' location near the turn provides a good photo op, he said.

Despite the pub's closure, Boland feels positively about the race and its impact on businesses.

"Whatever things were rough five or six years ago, they've become a part of the past," Boland said.

Cassis American Brasserie also is embracing the race, banking on an influx of fans and drivers.

"There's two types of people," general manager Elliot Gunther said. "There's people who love the race, and the people who hate the race."

Gunther is the former. The restaurant is working hard to promote its after-party for drivers and fans Sunday night. "We think it's going to be great for business," he said.

Others take the opposite approach. For the first time this year, the Dalí Museum will close during race weekend, citing poor ticket sales in past years because museumgoers also had to buy a race ticket to get to the museum.

Bayfront Tower Hair Design also closed for the weekend starting Thursday, and the Kantner Law Firm next door stopped scheduling clients at the end of the week to avoid the parking woes and blocked entrances.

Though businesses have had a month to get accustomed to hindrances caused by track construction, they'll have a new obstacle to tackle when cars start zooming around the track today: the noise.

John Brozek, of Quality Tyme Rare & Fine Time Pieces, posted this to his Facebook page Thursday: "since our showroom is literally located just FEET from the track (turn 4), it will be getting LOUD around here over the next few days. As a result, we may be a little difficult to reach by telephone."

Still, Brozek said he'd have to be crazy to complain — he believes the race generates business downtown and thinks most pieces of construction have gone more smoothly this year.

"I think they've got enough years under their belt that they're kind of getting things going," Brozek said.

While older downtown staples can rely on experience to develop their plan of attack, newer ones could still be left in the dark.

"In a lot of ways, it's really unknown to me," said Megan Simons, who has owned Pippa Pelure, a clothing shop on Beach Drive NE, for about nine months.

It sits less than a block from the track.

Simons said she heard there could be an influx of foot traffic, but she's also heard about the noise.

"It feels like it might affect my business," Simons said. "I don't know if it will be better or worse."

Claire Wiseman can be reached at cwisean@tampabay.com or (727)-893-8804. Follow @clairelwiseman on Twitter.

Downtown St. Petersburg businesses ready for Firestone Grand Prix 03/27/14 [Last modified: Thursday, March 27, 2014 10:08pm]

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