Friday, June 22, 2018

Dalí Museum to close during Grand Prix race

ST. PETERSBURG — The Dalí Museum will throw in the towel this year and close during the Grand Prix race, March 28-30.

"We're disappointed," said Dalí executive director Hank Hine, "but we just have to live with it."

Since the Dalí moved to its new $36-million building on the downtown waterfront in 2011, March has been its best month, with up to 3,000 visitors daily.

Except when attendance flatlines during the last weekend.

For three days during the Grand Prix race, the museum becomes a desert island separated from the rest of the world by fences and barricades.

Hine said he called Mayor Rick Kriseman after the board of directors' decision to shut down and "he was appreciative and thought it made sense."

Kriseman later issued a statement saying, "I hope to work with Hank Hine at the Dalí, Firestone Grand Prix team, and city staff to better incorporate the Dalí as well as other local businesses into race events for next year."

The Dalí and its visitors contend with inconvenience for weeks leading up to and after the race. Museum officials have tried working on compromises for several years, but the reality of putting up and breaking down the professional track means weeks of construction work in which streets are closed to traffic as barricades are erected.

Access becomes more problematic during the three days before and after the race because cars aren't allowed into the area. So the museum will hire a city trolley to shuttle visitors from a remote parking lot. But even trolleys are banned during the race.

Because the Dalí is inside the course, only pedestrians with Grand Prix passes may enter.

The Thursday before the race is perhaps the oddest day for the museum. In the past it has been open, but the only way a person can reach it is by walking from a remote lot and "finding holes in the fence," Hine said. So the museum may also close on March 27.

Organizers of the IndyCar race said that the 2013 event drew about 125,000 fans who paid for 27,000 room nights. Advocates say it gives St. Petersburg international exposure through the televised race in which cars whiz through some of the city's most beautiful streets, which are converted to a 1.8-mile, 14-turn track.

The Dalí also draws international visitors and press — the museum has the world's most comprehensive collection of works by the Spanish surrealist.

Beyond the Dalí's problems, the Grand Prix is divisive. Many business owners say business is bad during the event since race fans mostly stay inside the fences and locals stay away. Residents in nearby condominiums complain about the noise.

Still, the City Council approved a three-year extension through 2017, and a new sponsor, Firestone, signed on when Honda dropped last fall.

"We know the Grand Prix existed before we agreed to move to this location," Hine said. "We welcome them."

Hine said, "We're all trying to make lemonade out of it," so the staff will gather at University of South Florida St. Petersburg for training sessions during race days.

"We are kicking off a new customer-oriented training program and have chosen that weekend to take a training break," he said.

Information from Times was included in this story. Lennie Bennett can be reached at (727) 893-8293 or [email protected]

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