St. Petersburg looked picture-perfect this past weekend. Perfect weather, large crowds and Indy race cars roaring along the waterfront produced priceless international publicity. The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is a major league event that reflects well on the community, and it should be a long-term fixture.
In an economic recession, the business generated by the race was particularly welcome. Hotels, restaurants and downtown sidewalks were filled with visitors and residents throughout the weekend. Race drivers talked up the city in interviews, and television coverage beamed to more than 200 countries offered frequent aerial views of the beautiful downtown waterfront. The race's success reaffirmed St. Petersburg's ability to handle big downtown crowds and host large events without major disruptions outside the immediate area.
It is important remember that the city's success with street racing did not occur overnight. There were years of stops and starts, of flirtations with less prestigious racing leagues that did not take hold, of different courses that were not as picturesque. The city's perseverance, the emergence of Andretti Green Promotions as the race promoter and the unification of the competing Indy car leagues have combined to create a signature event. Mayor Rick Baker has good reason to treat this as economic development and to be protective of the Grand Prix when balancing the needs of other downtown attractions, from the potential of a new baseball stadium to the new Dali museum that is under construction.
While some downtown condo owners are inconvenienced by the noise and the race barricades, an engaging city offers a broad array of events — from sports to museums to concerts to the Mainsail Arts Festival later this month. No single event is going to appeal to every resident, but St. Petersburg's diverse offerings in an accessible downtown are enriching the city's public life. The Grand Prix offers top-caliber racing and postcard views that reflect well on the city, and its future here should be bright.