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City wants more of the X Games

After hundreds of athletes on skateboards, bikes and in-line skates came to town for a weekend of X Games preliminaries, St. Petersburg now wants them back.

The city will bid to host the main event, the 1999 and 2000 X Games, which could bring St. Petersburg more than 100 hours of international television exposure and millions in revenue.

"The experience we had with the trials showed us that, yeah, this will work and the community will like it," said Mike Davenport, president of the St. Petersburg-Clearwater Sports Foundation, who in June will visit San Diego to watch the games and find out whether the city is awarded the event.

The "extreme" competition is held every June for alternative-sports athletes, who compete in 28 events with names like skysurfing, street luge and downhill in-line skating. Five other cities are bidding for 1999 and 2000: Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and Providence, R.I.

St. Petersburg got a taste of the action April 17-19, when 500 athletes competed in trials to qualify for the X Games in San Diego. Officials estimate that 65,000 people, young and old, crowded Spa Beach Park at The Pier to ooh and ahh and slurp free Mountain Dews.

It wasn't all fun and games.

Before the athletes arrived, St. Petersburg City Council members debated but agreed to relax an ordinance banning skateboarding on some downtown sidewalks and streets. Some downtown business owners reported that the hundreds of local skateboarders who took advantage of that freedom caused thousands of dollars in damage by gouging steps, railings, bricks and other objects.

Extra police officers patrolled downtown and answered 23 calls related to the games: 17 disorderly skateboarders, three trespassing reports and three criminal mischief reports.

Council member Kathleen Ford, who voted against allowing skateboarders downtown, said she would love to see the X Games come back for two years as long as the crowds behave.

"To me, this is like our living room and we don't want folks damaging our living room," said Ford, who took her children to the trials. "It's just bad manners."

Despite the damage, officials and spectators were largely thrilled with the event.

"The event was tremendous _ I hate to say it _ but maybe even better than we expected," said X Games spokesman Dean Stoyer. "The athletes were stoked. Everyone was overwhelmingly helpful."

By mid-May, the city will complete a half-inch thick application, answering questions about average June weather, office and hotel space, and security. St. Petersburg has two obvious drawbacks: June is hot and humid, and the city doesn't have a big enough hill to host street luge.

Davenport and others would like to hold the bulk of the events in Vinoy Park on the waterfront. They are brainstorming ways to host the problem events like street luge, and are considering building a ramp, using an interstate overpass or the old Gandy Bridge span.

The potential cost to the city to host the event was not available Monday, but it would be considerably less than the cost for larger events like next year's Final Four basketball tournament. The X Games are largely self-sufficient, bringing skateboard ramps, construction staff and other equipment with them.

The St. Petersburg-Clearwater Sports Foundation estimates the games would have a $20-million impact on the area, mostly in St. Petersburg.

ESPN officials would not handicap St. Petersburg's chances, but said the city would have been discouraged from applying had the trials not gone well.

"Probably the city outdid what they said they were going to do," said X Games executive director Jack Wienert.