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St. Petersburg leaders extend Grand Prix contract through 2017 despite protests

Published Jun. 22, 2012

ST. PETERSBURG — The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will roar on despite complaints about barriers and fences on city streets.

The City Council unanimously approved a three-year contract extension with race officials Thursday that will keep the Grand Prix here through 2017.

Leaders at the Mahaffey Theater and the Salvador Dalí Museum wanted the city to renegotiate a shorter time that their venues could be penned up behind concrete and steel barriers. The contract allows 68 days for setup and removal.

The Dalí museum, at Bayshore Drive and Fifth Avenue SE, is inside the race course and sealed off from the rest of downtown for more than a month. The Dalí was not in its current location when the city signed an earlier race contract in 2004.

The Mahaffey Theater closes for two weeks during the race because the barriers and production trucks impede events. The 2,100 barriers stood roughly from early February through early April in 2011.

Before the council's vote Thursday, several downtown residents complained about the barriers and the noise associated with the race.

"They've got to do a better job," said Willi Rudowsky, who lives downtown. "There is a constant beep, beep when trucks back up.

Laura Tillinghast Hine, wife of Dalí director Hank Hine, said barriers prevent her from walking her child to the park. She urged officials to table the vote for two months until a shorter period can be negotiated, adding: "I see this as a residents' issue."

A city staffer told council members that races in Detroit, Toronto and California require the same amount of time to put up and tear down the track.

Tim Ramsberger, general manager of the race, said the construction of the track is a complicated circus. He said he isn't comfortable with officials who aren't race experts simply changing the contact.

He pointed out that the group shortened this year's time by 10 days.

"We are not insensitive to this issue," he said. "Public safety is paramount."

The bickering, council member Bill Dudley said, sends a bad message to race officials.

"Indy Car is watching," he said. "There are people in line waiting to take our spot. … Forty-five days is very reasonable."

The race's owner pledged that the firm will work to reduce the time.

Council members praised race officials for bringing so much publicity and money to the city.

Council member Karl Nurse urged everyone to work together, saying: "Can't we all just get along?"

Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8459.

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