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Dalí Museum quiet as Honda Grand Prix buzzes by in downtown St. Petersburg

The Dalí Museum sits inside the race course, forcing people to buy tickets to both to get into the museum. Bad news: $61 today. Good news: museum will likely be sparsely populated.

LARA CERRI | Times

The Dalí Museum sits inside the race course, forcing people to buy tickets to both to get into the museum. Bad news: $61 today. Good news: museum will likely be sparsely populated.

ST. PETERSBURG — Dave Copham spent a rare quiet hour Saturday at the new Salvador Dalí Museum.

Outside, the buzz of Honda Grand Prix cars and crowds wrapped the waterfront. Inside, scattered knots of visitors appreciated a break from the attraction's normal weekend rush.

"I could come here and see this every day," said Copham, who was visiting from Fort Myers.

This is the first year the race has had to coexist with another of the city's newest and most prominent destinations. Even as thousands of people streamed past the unusual Dalí building — which sits in the middle of the Grand Prix route — few stopped to take a look inside.

If they had, they would have had to pay the usual $21 museum admission as well as a general admission race ticket, which is $40 today.

That wasn't an issue for the Cophams or their friends, who said they are fans of both attractions. Besides, there was a bonus for those who visited the museum on Saturday — an air-conditioned view of the race.

"It is amazing, just awesome," said Fort Myers resident Dan Creighton. "The Dalí and this is just amazing together."

Still, the effect of the surreal culture clash was evident on Saturday. Everyone from the security guards outside to the tour guides inside the Dalí noticed: Gone were the long lines and the packed rooms.

According to trustee Bob Ulrich, the museum, which saw a record-setting single-day attendance of 3,000 people several days ago, had just 400 visitors on Friday, the opening day of the Grand Prix. The museum didn't release its visitor numbers Saturday.

"There's no question about it, we've had some challenges," said Ulrich, who brought his family to the race and the museum Saturday. "It's not an easy challenge to work out, but we'll work it out."

Ulrich said he suspected many people who were interested just in the museum may have chosen to stay away this weekend.

Last week, both race and museum officials said they planned to wait and see how this year's arrangement worked. For visitors, it was a work in progress.

"I think the race is important for St. Pete," said Robert Stackhouse of St. Petersburg, who had lunch in the museum while waiting for a race to start. "And obviously the Dalí is important too. … It's growing pains."

Still, others seemed a little confused by the situation.

Around noon, a German couple made their way to the museum's front desk with race tickets. A woman behind the counter explained that if they wanted to come inside, they would also have to buy museum tickets.

The couple, in broken English, explained they weren't interested in the race. They shook their heads, turned, and walked away.

St. Petersburg natives Angela Coney and her brother Andre Thomas had a similar experience a short time later.

Coney figured the museum would be a great place to watch the race. She had a vision of standing at the top of the staircase and gazing out through one of the panels that make up the 75-foot Glass Enigma, which wraps around the building.

But she balked when she realized she would have to shell out more cash for the privilege — a museum ticket on top of the race ticket she had already purchased.

"I'm a little disappointed," she said. "We were trying to get into the Dalí, but we didn't want to spend all that money."

Coney and others said they hope next year organizers can work out a combined ticket or discount for people who want to go to both places.

The pair decided to just enjoy the race instead. They had plenty of company. Fans in sunglasses and racing-logo T-shirts milled about. Mothers smeared sunscreen on kids' faces. People rushed to find good seats.

Many whisked by the signs leading to the museum entrance.

Others, however, found another use for the building, slumping against its shaded walls to escape the heat.

Times staff photographer Lara Cerri contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

Dalí Museum quiet as Honda Grand Prix buzzes by in downtown St. Petersburg 03/26/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 26, 2011 10:36pm]
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