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'Clean zone' riles some downtown business owners

By MIKE BRASSFIELD

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 21, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG -- The Tavern at Bayboro was all set to cash in on Grand Prix weekend. The restaurant's owners put up colorful streamers and a few vinyl signs, hoping to bring racing fans into their little pub near the race course.

But on Thursday, city code enforcers told them to take it all down. They were violating the city's "clean zone" ordinance, which bans tents, temporary signs and inflatable decorations immediately around the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg's race track.

The restaurant's response: What clean zone? What ordinance?

A few downtown business owners were annoyed, because they'd been given no warning about this.

"I understand the city is worried about visual clutter, but they waited too long to contact us. Twelve hours notice is cutting it a little close," said Gavan Benson, co-owner of the Tavern at Bayboro.

"We've had a heck of a cash outlay in order to do well with this race, and now, without some extra signage, no one will know we're here."

The City Council passed this ordinance back in June, when it approved plans for the Grand Prix. But officials acknowledge they didn't get the word out to merchants until Thursday.

"There was no formal notice," said Kevin Dunn, the city's managing director of development coordination. "If any miscommunications resulted in confusion, we'll try to do a better job next year."

Sally Eichler, director of city code enforcement, found out about the "clean zone" ordinance Thursday morning. She had two investigators walk along the race course to inform business owners about the law.

The ordinance, which restricts temporary signs and structures, is meant to prevent a free-for-all of merchants targeting the masses in town for the Grand Prix. St. Petersburg did the same thing for the Final Four, and Tampa did it for the most recent Super Bowl.

This weekend's "clean zone" affects an area roughly from First Avenue N to Seventh Avenue S, from the east side of Second Street to Tampa Bay. Relatively few businesses are affected.

"They tried to tell me to take my signs down," said Davio Kendall, manager of Fresco's, an Italian restaurant at Second Avenue NE and Beach Drive. "But the clean zone doesn't come up this far."

The city tackled one other piece of race-related business. Race organizers didn't have permission to sell beer and wine inside the race area on Sunday morning.

The City Council had to pass an emergency ordinance Thursday, suspending the usual citywide ban on Sunday morning alcohol sales.

-- Staff writer Jon Wilson contributed to this report.

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