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Boat show draws nearly 30,000 to St. Pete waterfront

Mark Parker

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The St. Petersburg Power and Sailboat Show showcased the city's downtown waterfront to thousands of visitors for the 46th year. Photos by Forest Johnson Photography, on behalf of the St. Pete Boat Show, unless otherwise noted.

Despite overcast skies and unusually cool temps for the Sunshine City, an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 people attended the 46th annual St. Petersburg Power and Sailboat Show.

Billed as the Gulf Coast’s largest boat show, the event was held from Thursday, Jan. 18, through Sunday, Jan. 21, at the Mahaffey Theater Yacht Basin and Albert Whitted Park. Over 400 fishing and pleasure vessels lined Bayshore Drive while luxurious yachts moored along the docks. An expansive 40,000-square-foot tent housed a smorgasbord of marine gear, equipment and accessories.

Attendees enjoyed complimentary seminars, children’s fishing clinics and on-water boat training courses hosted by the Annapolis School of Seamanship and Progressive. Nickolas Pantner, business development manager for Informa Markets/U.S. Boat Shows, said boat sales were as brisk as Sunday morning’s temperatures.

“Even with the weather that we had, things went very well,” Pantner said. “From Thursday through Sunday, boats were sold at this show – a lot of boats.”

Attendees and exhibitors filled Bayshore Drive from Jan. 18 through Jan. 21.Informa operates what has become a St. Pete tradition for nearly five decades. New this year was a brokerage section for used boat sales.

Pantner said increased demand has forced him to “get creative” with the event’s layout. Informa added temporary docks and pilings to accommodate the influx of inventory.

Pantner noted that interest rates are still atypically high, at around 7%. However, he believes the combination of new and used boat sales put this year’s revenues on par with previous events.

Another new aspect for 2024 was a partnership with Tampa Bay Watch. Attendees could add a donation to the local organization with ticket purchases, and Pantner said the initiative was a success.

He also noted the boat show’s local economic impact. Pantner said nearly 60% of the hundreds of exhibitors traveled from outside Tampa Bay.

“They’re buying gas within the area; they’re getting a hotel,” he said. “They’re also buying food and supporting local restaurants. It adds up, little by little.”

Pantner explained that Informa also hired local laborers to help implement and disassemble the event’s extensive infrastructure. He said company staff were already in Miami preparing for the next boat show before St. Petersburg’s ended.

Informa collaborates with clients to strategically place docks around the yacht basin. Pantner said crews must then run electrical and water lines to each space. “The infrastructure is quite interesting,” he said.

Pantner said the lack of available land to house hundreds of boats and trailers also presents a challenge. He noted that the event is reaching its capacity along Bayshore Drive.

The event’s popularity is still a net positive, as Pantner said it annually introduces new companies to the area. He added that many don’t realize what the city has become until participating in the boat show.

Nickolas Pantner, business development manager for Informa Markets/U.S. Boat Shows, noted that the event annually attracts new people and companies to St. Pete. Photo by Mark Parker.

Informa and Pantner call Fort Lauderdale home, and he said staff has also noticed St. Petersburg’s yearly growth. “You have new hotels, new apartment buildings, new towers, new restaurants – things are looking pretty good over here,” he said. “If I could live here, I would.”

While temperatures began in the 40s Saturday, Pantner said sunny skies led to an “amazing” amount of foot traffic. He also noted that despite rainy conditions to start the four-day event, lines formed outside the gate each morning.

“It’s pretty rewarding when you put all your effort into it, and you see it all happen and the success of it,” Pantner added. “It’s a great feeling.”

 

 

 

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