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Salvador Dalí Museum, Honda Grand Prix struggling to coexist

ST. PETERSBURG — It's the high-brow vs. the high-octane.

The leadership of the new Salvador Dalí museum, one of the city's most popular attractions, says the museum is having a hard time coexisting with one of St. Petersburg's most popular events, the annual Honda Grand Prix.

The problem is that the Dalí's new $36 million waterfront museum along Bayshore Drive NE was built inside the race course, which is sealed off from the rest of downtown for several weeks a year. This year's race was March 25-27. But huge concrete barriers were erected in February and weren't taken down until April.

Kathy White, deputy director of the Dalí, said they hope the city can do something to shorten the amount of time the museum is penned up behind walls of concrete and steel every year.

"We knew about the Grand Prix when we moved in there and we love the event," she said. "But it's a very long period of time to set up and dismantle (the barrier.)"

According to Bay News 9, Dalí executive director Hank Hine described the museum's problems in a letter to trustees:

"Sadly, on February 10, Bayshore (Drive) was closed to all traffic — pedestrian, bicycle, and automobile — for the Grand Prix construction. The grand waterfront boulevard of our City was not again open until April 11," Hine wrote to the trustees.

He added: "Following the disastrous interruption of the waterfront, the access roads, the airport, Mahaffey (Theater), and Al Lang Stadium lasting for two months I have asked the City of St. Petersburg to meet with Dalí representatives to discuss how to reduce, in the future, the impediments to our operation at the Dalí and other amenities, caused by the Grand Prix."

Hine asked the trustees to write to Mayor Bill Foster, asking that the city try to improve museum access during the race, according to Bay News 9. Both sides are expected to meet soon.

Foster said the Dalí is well aware of the city's contractual obligations to the Grand Prix. "Our job is to make sure all parties will adhere to the agreements and we will do that," he said.

But the mayor said he'll work with the Dalí to see what can be done to help the museum. "We can put our heads together as partners and see if there's anything we can do," Foster said.

The new museum opened Jan. 11 and has had more than 156,000 visitors, according to White. The old museum drew about 200,000 a year, she said. A few weeks before the race, the Dalí set a record with more than 3,000 visitors in one day.

But during the Grand Prix, attendance dropped from thousands to hundreds. Patrons that weekend also had to buy tickets to the race and the museum to get inside the Dalí, because the museum is inside the area blocked off for the race.

White said the three days of the race are a separate issue. What concerns the museum the most is access to the Dalí in the weeks surrounding the race.

Both the mayor and St. Petersburg City Council ember Karl Nurse ruled out changing the race course as far too expensive.

"You're probably talking about millions of dollars to move it somewhere else or to change the route," Nurse said. "I think the underlying concern is how to make the Dalí more accessible, or inaccessible for a shorter period of time."

Nurse suggested a better alternative would be to make sure that barricades blocking access to the museum are removed more quickly. This year, they stayed up a week after the race.

"You should probably run two to three shifts to remove those barricades," Nurse said. "It costs something, but it's cheaper than the alternative of moving the route."

Times staff writers Michael Van Sickler and Mary Jane Park contributed to this report.

Salvador Dalí Museum, Honda Grand Prix struggling to coexist 05/09/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 10, 2011 12:04am]
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