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Grand Prix watchers can hoist a few early

The City Council acts at the last minute to allow Sunday morning sales.

By JON WILSON, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2003

ST. PETERSBURG -- If you go to the Grand Prix early this morning, you can have your beer and drink it, too -- even on a Sunday.

It took an emergency City Council action to make it so.

By law, alcohol isn't sold in the city until 1 p.m. on Sundays. But Grand Prix organizers say their corporate sponsorships are closely tied to "hospitality" -- which can include the availability of food and drink from the first rev-up.

Action starts today at 8 a.m.

Problem was, due to an apparent miscommunication, race organizers didn't have a permit to sell anything alcoholic that early.

So the City Council had to approve a last-minute suspension of the city ordinance that bans Sunday morning sales.

It affects only the fenced-off race area, and is for today only.

Council member John Bryan was for smoothing the way quickly, saying it would help build the city's reputation as a good place to do business.

But the matter made some of his colleagues irritable.

"It makes it sound like if we don't sell beer and wine before 1 p.m. Sunday, the race is a failure, and that's ludicrous," said Bill Foster, who was the only dissenter in the council's eventual 7-1 vote to allow sales.

"I refuse to call the sale of alcoholic beverages an emergency," he said.

Foster also wondered what would stop organizers of other special events downtown from making similar requests. (They can anyway, but each would have to seek council approval, according to the city's legal staff.)

Council chairman Earnest Williams offered grudging acceptance. "I don't want to get into the habit of this" last-minute action, he said.

And Jay Lasita summed up what seemed to be a prevailing attitude:

"I personally think that drinking beer at 9 o'clock in the morning is not good from a health standpoint," he said. "But it's their show."

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