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  1. News

Romano: Let's negotiate with Grand Prix, not drive them out of town

Let's begin with this premise:

The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is a great deal for the city.

Not good. Not worthwhile.


Combine the tourists and money the race brings in, add the exposure and prestige it provides, and then divide by the city's relatively meager cost, and you have a return on investment that's difficult to beat.

So, no, it's not a good idea for any City Council member to act as if the city has outgrown the race. If IndyCar racing is desirable enough for Boston and Toronto, then it's probably got a smidge of value among the skyscraper(s?) of St. Pete.

Having said that, council members were well within their rights to ask questions last week about a proposed three-year extension with the race's promoters.

And the promoters, Green Savoree Racing, should have expected that.

Instead, Kevin Savoree went directly from silence to threats. He suggested there would be no negotiating. He suggested the race might leave. He rattled off a list of cities that have lost IndyCar races, while conveniently leaving out the unique circumstances behind each of the departures.

Yet, by meeting's end, he was talking about how accommodations might be made.

And that's the first clue that council members were on the right track. For as good as the current deal is for the city, it is also a good deal for the promoters.

They may not want to make any concessions, but that doesn't mean they aren't willing.

That's where this situation differs from baseball.

In the Rays' situation, there is no question that Major League Baseball is disappointed in Tampa Bay's performance as a market and is willing to back whatever remedy owner Stu Sternberg wants to pursue.

That's probably not the case with IndyCar. The racing group will likely support Green Savoree publicly, but it also knows it has a good situation here. The city has embraced the race, the weather and scenery work perfectly to open the season, and there are a limited number of downtowns that could provide this much infrastructure and flexibility.

Those factors all work in St. Pete's favor — as long as the city doesn't overplay its hand.

That's what has Chris Ballestra, the city's managing director of development, concerned.

"The bang we're getting for our buck is substantial. It blows the door off anything else,'' Ballestra said. "So do you want to run the risk of your current partner opting out?''

Some council members want to open the contract to bids. Green Savoree and Ballestra both say there are a limited number of companies that have the ability to put on the event. If that's true, then it should be easy for Green Savoree to win.

And if they don't want to risk that, then they should come back to the city with a revised contract right now. Ballestra says he is already working on some changes, including a clause that would guarantee the city has the race's dates nine to 10 months in advance.

That would be a good start.

But the city might also want to look into whether the race can make life a little easier for downtown businesses and attractions affected by closed streets and other inconveniences. The city's subsidy is actually minor compared to those issues.

"As the city changes and you get more and more redevelopment around the area, you can't understate this is disruptive,'' council member Karl Nurse said in the meeting. "To me it's only rational that we would say, 12 years later … we want to look at the terms of the deal.''

That's not too much to ask.

The Grand Prix seems to have enough going for it to keep most everyone happy.