Future of St. Pete Grand Prix could be in question

(Getty Images)
4 Comments

In a city known for sunshine, the future of the Verizon IndyCar Series St. Petersburg Grand Prix has suddenly begun to turn cloudy.

Several members of the St. Petersburg City Council are questioning the value of the series’ annual season-opening event, particularly money the city puts into it, as well as how much money is generated for local businesses.

The controversy began when IndyCar officials recently informed the city that the 2016 race date will be moved up two weeks, to be held in mid-March (13-15), rather than its customary end of the month race dates.

Part of the reason for the date change is the following two weekends are the 12 Hours of Sebring race and the Easter holiday. Plus, the popular Mahaffey Theater, which is along part of the race course, has a conflict on the first weekend of April.

In addition, council members are questioning why race promoter Green Savoree Racing Promotions will not open its books to the council to see how much money the three-day event is actually making.

Council members also suggested that perhaps the city has outgrown the event that drew an estimated 160,000 race fans this past March, according to a report by TampaBay.com.

A meeting last week between the council and Green Savoree became contentious, with some council members indicating the city should put the event out for bids from other potential promoters after the current contract ends in 2017.

To which Green Savoree co-founder Kevin Savoree said, “Good luck with that,” according to TampaBay.com.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman has called for a council vote next month to extend Green Savoree’s current contract through 2020.

Kriseman has also said he will not seek bids from other potential promoters, according to city development administrator Alan DeLisle.

“You don’t want quality to walk away,” DeLisle said.

But several council members are balking at the extension, including council member Jim Kennedy, who remarked, “Are we getting the best deal?”

Savoree replied, “If you guys want us, you want us. If you don’t want us, we understand. This is business. And over the years, promoters around this country and around this world have come and gone like yo-yos.”

The battle on the future of the Grand Prix appears to pit the Mayor vs. several council members that are calling into question the $150,000 subsidy the city pays Green Savoree, as well as all the infrastructure changes needed to stage the race, such as blocking off streets, using part of the downtown airport (which the city pays for) as part of the race course and more.

“I would assume if you guys weren’t making money, you wouldn’t do it anymore,” council member Karl Nurse told Savoree, according to SunCoastNews.com. “It’s only rational that we would say 12 years later, whereas we have subsidized this all along, we want to look at the terms of the deal.”

Council member Amy Foster inferred that perhaps the city has outgrown the Grand Prix, and that she wasn’t sure it was “the only thing” that made St. Petersburg relevant today.

“I do feel, frankly, that we’re a different city than when this race started,” she said.

Follow @JerryBonkowski