Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Grand Prix supporter wants to end St. Petersburg subsidy

Photographers capture the action at the 2005 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the waterfront. This year’s race drew an estimated 140,000 fans. Next year’s is scheduled for live coverage on ABC.

MIKE PEASE | Times (2005)

Photographers capture the action at the 2005 Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the waterfront. This year’s race drew an estimated 140,000 fans. Next year’s is scheduled for live coverage on ABC.

ST. PETERSBURG — With the city's budget slashed last spring to save millions, the man credited with bringing the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to town thought the popular race had outpaced the need for $150,000 guaranteed annually.

A mid October City Council vote in favor of continuing the contract for a year with Andretti Green Promotions, however, shelved Thomas Begley's vision that those dollars could better be used for other programs.

It raised an issue of just how the annual IndyCar and American Le Mans Series fete benefits the city and how to measure its success.

"If the council has given them that, they don't have all the facts and they don't understand the situation," said Begley, who has written council members and City Hall numerous times about the issue. "We can't retain firefighters we've trained, and we can't have summer programs for youth. This doesn't make any sense to me."

In 2004 the city gave race organizers $3.6 million in capital improvements for $1. The outlay was widely seen as a necessary expense to lure investors who were taking a chance on a new venture.

Begley had begun efforts to bring a car race to St. Petersburg 12 years ago and worked through its first year with original promoter Dover Motorsports. In 1991, he paid less than $50,000 for the assets of a waterfront grand prix that had gone bankrupt. In 1996, he staged a Trans-Am race around Tropicana Field. In 2003, he scored the first Grand Prix, sanctioned by Championship Auto Racing Teams.

"I thought it was a perfect community event," he said. "It has national and international exposure, and it drives tourism. All I'm saying is, when we gave them the ranch to begin with, why are we annually giving them more money?"

The annual money is intended for city services that include building of racetrack barriers, in-ground improvements and safety systems. Those assets revert to the city should Andretti Green sever its relationship, said Kevin Dunn, a spokesman for Mayor Rick Baker's office.

Dunn said the outlay is worth the exposure the race brings.

"In exchange for that, we have an internationally recognized event with world-class coverage, and that is an invaluable commodity that is hard to put a dollar amount on," Dunn said. "The city did a great job of positioning itself. … They compare this venue to Monte Carlo and live network panning our downtown waterfront."

With the 2010 race slated for live coverage on ABC, viewership likely will increase, Dunn said. Begley counters that viewership is difficult to measure in international markets. Baker has promoted TV coverage of the Grand Prix in touting the event's growth.

The TV coverage was at least part of the reason council member Karl Nurse voted to renew the contract on Oct. 15. An anecdote convinced him of its worth.

"The attendance numbers are all over the ballpark, but the television, I know someone who was on vacation in Spain and turned on the TV and saw it," Nurse said. "I supported it because the Grand Prix obviously attracts a lot of people to town, but more importantly it is shown on TV across the world, and I have to tell you that spring in St. Petersburg and a race with our waterfront in the background is worth a lot of money."

To Begley, a better deal could result from ending the $150,000 subsidy and diverting it to other programs that may wind up on the chopping block.

"The response will be, 'We'll find the money for those things,' " Begley said. "Well, why isn't the $150,000 here important? It's a matter of fairness more than anything else. I think they're loaded with temerity, and I think they're taking advantage of the taxpayers."

Grand Prix supporter wants to end St. Petersburg subsidy 11/28/09 [Last modified: Saturday, November 28, 2009 3:31am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Storm routs Cleveland


    TAMPA — Alvin Ray Jackson intercepted two passes, returning one for a touchdown, and recovered two fumbles as the Storm routed Cleveland 57-27 Saturday night in its home regular-season finale at Amalie Arena.

  2. Miscue sends Rays to another stinging loss to Rangers (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rays gave away DJ Kitty onesies Saturday night. Then they gave away the game.

    Rays centerfielder Mallex Smith misses a drive hit by Adrian Beltre with two outs in the sixth, allowing the tying runs to score. Beltre puts Texas ahead 4-3 when he scores after two wild pitches.
  3. Rowdies shut out Charleston


    ST. PETERSBURG — The Rowdies know a thing or two about stalemates, with five of their past 10 games ending in a draw.

    Rowdies in the first half during the game between Tampa Bay Rowdies and the Charleston Battery at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg, Fla., on Saturday, Jul 22, 2017.
  4. 13-year-old Janessa's father holds memorial service at Rogers Middle School


    RIVERVIEW — About 100 people sat in the tile-floored multipurpose room Saturday at Rodgers Middle School where Janessa Shannon once sat as a student.

    A mourner embraces Nahshon Shannon after the memorial service for Nahshon’s daughter, Janessa, Saturday at Rodgers Middle School in Riverview.
  5. Trump: Aircraft carrier a symbol of America's might (w/video)


    NORFOLK, Va. — With praise and a blessing for the military, President Donald Trump helped hand over the USS Gerald R. Ford to the Navy on Saturday and said the state-of-the-art aircraft carrier will send a "100,000-ton message to the world" about America's military might when it is ultimately deployed.

    President Donald Trump commissions the USS Gerald R. Ford on Saturday in Norfolk, Va.