With possible date change for 2016 Grand Prix, local businesses are adjusting — for better or worse

Juan Pablo Montoya races toward the finish line in winning the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March. [Luis Santana | Times]
Juan Pablo Montoya races toward the finish line in winning the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March. [Luis Santana | Times]
Published Aug. 1, 2015

ST. PETERSBURG — Local special events don't get much louder or bigger than the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

So any hint that the IndyCar race series plans on shifting its dates around, even if it's only by a couple of weeks, is sure to get noticed.

That's exactly what happened when Motosports Travel, a website that books accommodations for racing events, posted the dates of a package offer for next year's race as March 11-14. That's two weeks sooner than when the race is typically held.

Rescheduling it makes sense. If held on the same weekend as this year's race, next year's would fall on Easter.

Yet, IndyCar, the group that runs the race series, has not confirmed the official date of the event.

Did the website jump the gun?

Nathan Griffiths, CEO for Motosports Travel, wouldn't disclose who told him to put the package offer on the earlier dates. Griffiths added that he won't begin accepting payments until the dates are confirmed.

"To be honest, most people just want to know the date regardless of what it is," he said. "IndyCar is bad about getting dates out ahead of time. We tell (callers) we have no idea of the date."

As far as Timothy Bogott, who runs TradeWinds Island Resort in St. Pete Beach, is concerned, the farther the event is from Easter weekend, the better. The two-week gap between these dates allows Bogott and his staff to accommodate as many visitors as possible.

"It is really important how these dates would relate with Easter," Bogott said. "I would say these (new) dates would not be bad, necessarily."

Bogott isn't alone with this rationale. Audrey Love, general manager at Ponce De Leon Hotel, said she'd much prefer the earlier dates. As it happens, this is a point in the month in which multiple events overlap, Love added, bringing a rush of guests.

"It's going to be a busy month for us," Love said. "It'll be great to see a lot of different faces come into town."

But bumping up the event poses logistical challenges.

Mid March is typically the busiest week in the busiest month of the year for the already booming Pinellas tourism industry, according to county tourism agency Visit St. Pete/Clearwater.

Other major sporting events, such as the PGA Valspar Championship, would overlap with the race should IndyCar move to the earlier date.

But tournament director Tracy West said she doesn't see much conflict if the events overlap.

"For the most part, corporate sponsors (for the two events) are pretty different," West said. "From a business standpoint, I don't think it'd impact either of us."

Chris Steinocher, president and CEO of St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce, emphasized the importance of the city hosting these events

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"We host so many different events in our community," Steinocher said. "It comes with the territory that great communities have got to be flexible with the folks they're working with."

Meanwhile, downtown businesses eagerly await the announcement of the dates. In previous years, patrons could not access the Salvador Dalí Museum because they had to buy a race ticket to even enter the museum. Citing poor ticket sales, the museum shut its doors during race weekend for the first time in 2014.

Bayfront Tower Hair Design followed suit and closed for the weekend as well, while the Kantner Law Firm next door — anticipating a parking nightmare and blocked entrances — stopped scheduling clients.

Contact Michael Majchrowicz at (727) 445-4159 or Follow @mjmajchrowicz.