Two lessons can be taken from the rip-roaring success of the first Clearwater Super Boat Offshore National Championship and Festival last weekend. 1. A deficit of parking on Clearwater Beach will not keep people away if there is an event that really interests and excites them. 2. Creative ideas from the business community can help beat back the impacts of a slow economy on Clearwater's tourism industry.
Bringing the Super Boat race to Clearwater Beach was the idea of uber-successful restaurateur Frank Chivas. He even put up his own money to lure it here and lined up other sponsors. Chivas saw a Super Boat International race in Key West — others are held in Sarasota and New York City — and said he knew "Clearwater was the perfect spot to do this."
Former Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst was recruited to be the volunteer chairman of the race, and Chivas arranged for a portion of concession proceeds to go to the Clearwater Community Sailing Center, which has been struggling for funding.
The free three-day festival was well-attended every day, but huge crowds turned out Sunday, both on foot and on water, to watch as the high-powered boats, which can achieve speeds near 200 mph, raced along a loop course several hundred yards off the beach. About 20,000 people observed the race offshore from a line of anchored boats that was 3 miles long and several boats deep. Police said about 7,500 people stood on the beach, and others watched from the comfort of hotels and restaurants along the beachfront.
With not nearly enough parking spaces on the beach, organizers announced satellite lots in downtown Clearwater, and the Jolley Trolley and large buses transported people back and forth. Those who think satellite lots downtown cannot work to ease the beach parking crisis during peak times should take note. If parking alternatives are advertised, convenient and well understood, people will use them.
Chivas and Aungst were so happy with the response to the race that they hope to make it an annual affair. Chamber of Commerce officials hope so, too, calling the event a real boon during what is normally a slow time of year on Pinellas beaches.
By the time the race returns next October, Clearwater will have completed its downtown boat slip project, which will offer plenty of space for boating spectators to dock and visit downtown or other area attractions.
Chivas' idea paid lots of dividends for area businesses that depend on tourism and it did not require any use of scarce city tax dollars. The community could benefit from more of that kind of resourcefulness.