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Powerboat racers rev an idle threat to civic pride

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By HOWARD TROXLER, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published May 15, 2002


The American Powerboat Association Offshore is going about things all wrong, if it hopes to buffalo the city of St. Petersburg into paying it more of the taxpayers' money to keep holding its national championship here.

The powerboaters have held events in St. Petersburg for the past five years. You might have noticed. Certainly, the fencing-off of Vinoy Park, the charge of admission to the municipal Pier and an incessant high, whining drone emanating from the downtown waterfront were giveaways. Or perhaps you thought the sound was coming from the City Council.

Almost as soon as the last championship ended last October, the association began agitating for help from the city for 2002. Had not the tight-fisted city required the powerboaters (instead of the taxpayers) to pony up $48,000 for city services, the event might even have broken even.

"From our perspective," chairman Michael Allweiss said last fall, in justifying a city subsidy, "there is not another single event in downtown St. Petersburg that generates the kind of economic impact we do."

Not another single event! Who knew? I am envisioning boat-show-goers bursting forth from the waterfront and crowding into the downtown art galleries and restaurants, waving wads of cash.

Unfortunately, the city has not tripped over itself fast enough to fork over the dough. So the powerboat association is trying a different tack: It is threatening to move its championship to St. Pete Beach.

Not, mind you, that St. Pete Beach could handle that much economic impact all at once. In my opinion it can barely handle the economic impact it gets now. It is hard to get a table at Woody's some nights, and it has been a long time since I was willing to stand in line at the Hurricane. Fortunately, not enough people so far know about the Beach Theater. Ooops, wait -- dang! You didn't see that.

Not being a resident of St. Pete Beach, I say that city's decision is none of my business. If the beach residents are desirous of being overrun with 50,000 powerboat fans, that is their decision. All I am saying is that the powerboaters should be careful, lest some of their economic impact spills off the barrier island into the waterways and accidentally floats back over to St. Petersburg, which would sort of thwart the whole scheme.

But as a state senator once said to me, "I digest." I was saying that threatening St. Petersburg with St. Pete Beach is not how you get St. Petersburg to do something. There are two things that you must say to St. Petersburg to get it to do something:

(1) Tampa wants this too.

(2) This will put you on the map.

In short, the powerboaters should follow the example of the Grand Prix, which already has made its deal with a giddy St. Petersburg for control of part of the city's downtown. Vroom, vroom!

Never mind that Tampa has no really great place to hold powerboat races, unless you close off Tampa Bay itself, or perhaps the Port of Tampa, which seems impractical. It does not matter. The boaters should claim that Tampa's plan is to fill up Raymond James Stadium with water, the way the Romans used to stage naval battles in the Colosseum, and St. Petersburg will panic.

As for being On The Map, St. Petersburg is uniquely worried among all Florida cities that it will be left off -- or even worse, deliberately omitted as part of the global conspiracy:

RAND MCNALLY WORKER #1: Let us disrespect St. Petersburg by leaving it off the map.

RAND MCNALLY WORKER #2: Even better, let's just label it "Tampa Bay"!

RAND MCNALLY WORKER #3: (Snidely Whiplash laughter)

Therefore, the powerboaters should adopt the strategy of subtly suggesting to St. Petersburg that it is not actually on the map, due to the wicked misnaming of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, but that the national powerboat championship will by-gum be held in "St. Petersburg, Florida," and ESPN 6 will be barred by contract from showing any scenes from Tampa, or even using the T-word during its coverage. People will know where St. Petersburg is then, yessirree.

-- You can reach Howard Troxler at (727) 893-8505 or at troxler@sptimes.com.

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