1. Opinion

Ruth: St. Petersburg's opposition to Grand Prix runs logic in reverse

Published Sep. 17, 2015

This may come as a surprise to the St. Petersburg City Council, but staging an IndyCar road race is not the same thing as one of those old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movies where someone shouts, "Hey I've got an idea! You get the cars. I'll get the drivers! We'll drop the checkered flag this weekend! It'll be great!"

But there was the City Council last week reveling in all its bumptious naivete, suggesting the annual Grand Prix of St. Petersburg ought to be put out for competitive bid, as if there are legions of folks who know how to do this stuff.

Council members got all pouty over a proposal by Mayor Rick Kriseman to extend the contract with Green Savoree Racing Promotions another three years to run the IndyCar race, which has certainly helped craft the city's image as an internationally cool place — for at least a week a year.

When you think of the television coverage, the arrival of thousands of beautiful people spending gobs of money in downtown St. Petersburg for the three-day event, it would seem the $150,000 in city services is a pretty good investment. Instead, the City Council got all whiney.

Council members demanded to see Green Savoree's books, kvetched about not getting more advance notice on next year's racing date and questioned whether an event that attracts 160,000 people to downtown St. Petersburg may have overstayed its welcome.

Memo to St. Petersburg City Council: Are you people crazy?

This is insane. The same council preventing the Tampa Bay Rays from exploring other stadium sites in a ham-handed and ill-informed effort to keep the team in St. Petersburg is now engaged in a ham-handed and ill-informed effort to push the promoters of a profitable and well-attended event out of a city where they want very much to stay.

It is certainly true Green Savoree could do a better job in working with other venues such as the Mahaffey Theater and Salvador Dalí Museum, which sit within the race route and have their operations disrupted during the Grand Prix events. And the city, which has never conducted a formal economic impact study of the race, would have an easier time justifying the $150,000 subsidy before the City Council with some better numbers.

Still, common sense would tell you an annual event that attracts 160,000 visitors, fills hotel rooms and restaurants, and showcases St. Petersburg to an international audience has to be a pretty good idea.

And yet, instead of working with Green Savoree like adults, the City Council decided to channel its inner Podunk.

Does the yearly race disrupt city life for a few days? Sure. But the inconvenience is the price to pay for any city wanting to enhance its profile. The Gasparilla season in Tampa upends Bayshore Boulevard for more than three days annually. Macy's Thanksgiving Parade in New York City practically shuts down Manhattan. And Mardi Gras takes over New Orleans.

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Meanwhile St. Petersburg City Council members Jim Kennedy, Wengay Newton and Amy Foster have decided to get all huffy over an event that lures 160,000 wallets to the city.

Green Savaree officials candidly explained to the City Council there are few companies with the expertise to organize IndyCar events like the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, which Wengay Newton misconstrued as an ultimatum by the company.

"I hate to get scare tactics," the council member said.

Here's what's scary — a St. Petersburg City Council populated by grandstanders willing to risk a multimillion dollar annual event. When it comes to rationality, these folks are running on fumes.