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Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on course for five more years

Margie Manning

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Downtown this weekend. Photo provided by Firestone Grand Prix.

St. Petersburg will continue to host the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the second weekend in March each year between now and 2024.

The City Council unanimously approved a four-year extension to the existing agreement with Green Savoree St. Petersburg LLC, setting fixed dates for each year of the race through 2024.

“This is the first time ever that we’ve had such a long set amount of dates,” Chris Ballestra, the city’s director of enterprise facilities, told the council at its July 18 meeting. “What that does for the community is it allows us to plan. It allows our partners to plan for the event and around the event, if necessary, and it makes it a better event, from sponsorship to city management of the event.”

During the race, city streets downtown turn into temporary race circuit, a 1.8-mile, 14-turn configuration using the streets circling Pioneer Park, the Duke Energy Center for the Arts, the Dali Museum and extending onto the runways at Albert Whitted Airport.

The race has been the season-opener for IndyCar for the past nine years. “That’s very important. That brings even more people to our city. Heads in beds and everyone comes away with a smile, which is the most important thing,” Ballestra said.

The basic tenants of the agreement remain the same, including a revenue participation component. The city receives $1 for every ticket sold. There were about 160,000 people at the most recent event in March.

Including “St. Petersburg” in the event name generated about $2 million worth of exposure for the city this year. Race promoters collaborate with Albert Whitted Airport, and the team provided more than $100,000 of substantial dedicated media and prime marketing placement that the airport would simply not receive otherwise as a part of the event, Ballestra said.

Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, who head Green Savoree, said they are working with the Dali Museum, which is planning a $38 million expansion, including 270 more parking spaces, that would impact future races.

Green Savoree also has made strong connections to area nonprofits, with substantial fundraising for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital and the Police Athletic League, he said.

In the early years of the race, businesses complained about disruptions from the concrete barriers and fences put up around the course. Promoters have decreased the preparation time from more than 40 days to 33 days, they said during the council meeting.

Here are the dates set for the next five races:

2020 race event: March 12-15

2021 race event: March 11-14

2022 race event: March 10-13

2023 race event: March 9-12

2024 race event: March 7-10

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