Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Downtown businesses want more from St. Pete Grand Prix

ST. PETERSBURG — Even with more than 50,000 people invading downtown in March for the Honda Grand Prix, Mike Shapiro already knows sales at his gallery will tumble during the three-day event.

He isn't alone.

Some downtown business owners want the city to better promote local establishments to the fans, tourists and crew members who will flock to downtown and spend millions of dollars on food and lodging while they are there.

Shop owners stressed that they understand the financial benefits the race brings. But they also think the city should develop a plan to draw people to areas outside the racetrack since the event comes at the height of tourist season.

"It's a downtown event," said Shapiro, who owns Shapiro's Gallery on Beach Drive NE. "They should embrace this more."

Other owners attribute declining sales to the flashing signs that direct cars to park at Tropicana Field and to locals staying away since they fear road closures and overcrowded parking conditions on Beach Drive.

Some suggested an event at Straub Park — held when cars aren't barreling around the track — might help.

"We sit here and do nothing," said Paul Bailey, owner of Savory Spice Shop. "There's parking."

Tim Ramsberger, general manager of the race, said the focus is to keep fans and their wallets inside the track barriers from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. since merchandise, food and drink sales help pay for the event.

Ramsberger is open to suggestions from business owners. He pointed out that fans are allowed to leave and reenter the race.

And the city, he said, distributes local guides to fans inside the race.

"We do are best to promote local businesses," Ramsberger said. "We want to help them."

The race runs each spring to kick off the Indy Car racing calendar. The 2013 event is March 22-24. Crews will begin assembling the track in late February.

While the race exposes St. Petersburg to a worldwide television audience, the popular event has not been without problems.

In June, the City Council unanimously approved a three-year contract extension with race officials to keep the Grand Prix here through 2017 despite objections from residents.

People who live downtown complained about the noise from big rigs delivering fences and barriers for the construction of the track.

Leaders at the Mahaffey Theater and the Salvador Dali Museum wanted the city to renegotiate a shorter time that their venues would be penned up behind concrete and steel barriers. The contract allows 68 days for setup and removal.

The race did shave 10 days off the set up and removal times last year.

Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development coordination, cautioned that the downtown streets would be gridlocked without flashing signs directing cars to parking lots.

He said it's fair for business owners to raise questions about luring customers to other downtown locales when the race isn't going on, adding: "We need to pay more attention to this."

The goal, Ballestra said, is to keep people spending money in the city long after the race ends each day. Last year, an Indiana firm wanted to set up a "chill lounge" for people to relax after the race, but the plan collapsed.

Another challenge is the weather.

Ballestra said it's possible that people head for homes and hotels after spending the entire day in the heat.

Restaurants and bars, Ramsberger said, benefit the most. He suggested that speciality shops stay open later or promote sales in the local guide.

Another business owner says the race presents a balancing act.

Tourists and race teams fill up the Parkshore Grill and 400 Beach Seafood & Tap House at night but not during the day, said owner Steve Westphal.

"Do they buy big bottles of wine?" he said. "Yes. You can't get much better than that."

While the night sales are robust, Westphal also would like to see additional events added to draw people downtown during the day.

Shapiro, the gallery owner, also faults the media for heavily promoting road closures. He wonders whether residents stay away because they believe downtown is snarled in gridlock.

He added: "It's an unintended consequence."

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.

Downtown businesses want more from St. Pete Grand Prix 12/22/12 [Last modified: Saturday, December 22, 2012 10:24pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Video: Rays Souza on that oh-so-bad dive, and reaction from Twins fans

    Blogs

    What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking when he made that oh-so-bad dive for a ball in the seventh inning Friday? Well, we'll let him tell you ...

  2. What was Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. thinking on that comically bad dive?

    Blogs

    What could Rays RF Steven Souza Jr. been thinking in the seventh inning Friday when he dove for a ball and came up yards short?

    Actually, he insisted after all the laughing, teasing and standing ovation from the Twins fans was done, it was a matter of self-preservation.

  3. Judge tosses life sentences for D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo

    Nation

    McLEAN, Va. — A federal judge on Friday tossed out two life sentences for one of Virginia's most notorious criminals, sniper Lee Boyd Malvo, and ordered Virginia courts to hold new sentencing hearings.

    A federal judge has tossed out two life sentences for D.C. sniper shooter Lee Boyd Malvo. [Associated Press, 2004]
  4. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter's national security adviser, dies

    News

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, the hawkish strategic theorist who was national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter in the tumultuous years of the Iran hostage crisis and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s, died on Friday at a hospital in Virginia. He was 89.

    Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, participates in Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on March 5, 2009, in Washington, D.C. [Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images]
  5. USF eliminated by UCF in AAC baseball; Florida, FSU, Miami win

    Colleges

    CLEARWATER — Roughly 16 hours after a ninth-inning collapse against East Carolina in the American Athletic Conference's double-elimination baseball tournament, USF returned to Spectrum Field presumably set for a reboot.

    It simply got booted instead.

    ’NOLES win: Tyler Holton gets a hug from Drew Carlton after his strong eight innings help Florida State beat Louisville.