For seven years, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg has had nearly unfettered access to downtown St. Petersburg to set up and disassemble the world-class racecourse. But downtown is a far more vibrant place to live and play now than when the race began in 2005. It's time for city officials to require organizer Andretti Green to do more to lessen the weeks-long inconvenience on downtown businesses, residents and visitors.
The question is being raised by leaders of the Salvador Dalí Museum, whose new $36 million building off Bayshore Drive SE sits smack in the middle of the race course. Museum leaders took a refreshing wait-and-see approach in March — two months after the facility opened — to see how attendance would fare. It turned out it fared poorly during the three-day March event when visitors had to also buy race tickets to access the museum. But for weeks before and after, concrete barricades and fencing also cordoned off significant parking and access roads to the museum.
Museum leaders will meet with city officials on Tuesday to discuss their concerns. There will be access issues as long as the Grand Prix is in St. Petersburg, and that is understandable. But the museum's main issue — about the length of time the race infringes on its operation — is not unique. For more than a month, residents and tourists along First Street South are forced to contend with concrete barriers that block onstreet parking and are an eyesore, and the visitors to the Mahaffey Theater or the airport and its restaurant have limited access.
St. Petersburg has proved itself a welcoming host to the Grand Prix, from subsidizing city services to making initial investments to create the course itself. Now it's time for Grand Prix officials to do their part and strike a better balance between ensuring access to the Dalí museum and other waterfront amenities and preparing for a race that brings international attention to St. Petersburg. Andretti Green should come to the table with a plan to speed up construction and dismantling of the track, and if it doesn't, city officials should demand it.