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Grand Prix extends 2 years

The deal ends speculation the race was on the way out.

By AARON SHAROCKMAN AND BRANT JAMES
Published May 1, 2007


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ST. PETERSBURG - IndyCar racing will stay in town for at least two more years.

The Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is returning to downtown St. Petersburg through 2009, Mayor Rick Baker announced Monday. Promoter Andretti Green Productions also set next year's race date for April 6.

The news ends any speculation that this year's race was the city's last. Andretti Green exercised a two-year option to extend the original contract.

"This race is going to happen on the first weekend in April for many years to come, " said Andretti Green co-owner Kevin Savoree. "We want people to mark their calendar 'St. Petersburg' and think, 'great car race.' "

Savoree would not say if the race, which is in third year, made a profit last month. But he said crowds exceeded expectations.

As many as 125, 000 fans attended the weekend-long races - about 25, 000 more than in 2006, city officials said.

The increase in attendance came despite a scheduling conflict with MacDill AirFest, which can draw as many as 750, 000 spectators. U.S. Air Force officials have promised they would not schedule their event opposite the Grand Prix in the future.

"We're very close to the point that we're institutionalizing the race, " said Baker, pointing to increases in sponsorships and the number of corporate suites.

Under the terms of the agreement, which remain unchanged, the city will provide up to $150, 000 in services to race promoters.

The city costs include police and fire protection, as well as road and garbage service. The city does not pay race promoters cash.

This year, the city said it expects to receive money back from Andretti Green for expenses over $150, 000 related to the Saturday American Le Mans Series race.

In return, the city receives 200 tickets, advertising opportunities and the right to build a hospitality area.

There's also the added benefit of more than five hours of television exposure for the Le Mans and IndyCar series' races, Baker said.

"I don't know what you would spend for that amount of media coverage, " Baker said.

Though its popularity has increased each year, the local Grand Prix's fate had been in question before Monday.

The race lost money in 2005 and 2006, officials said, and Andretti Green asked for a three-month extension until today to decide whether to exercise a two-year option extending the race through 2009.

It costs millions of dollars to build the 1.8-mile race course, putting St. Petersburg at a huge disadvantage when compared to standard oval tracks, officials said. They declined to be more specific about their costs.

But the race has blossomed into one of IndyCar's favorites, with some even calling it second only to the Indianapolis 500.

Savoree says the investment is starting to reap rewards.

Now Savoree says race promoters hope to launch negotiations to solidify the partnership with St. Petersburg for even longer.

"We discussed whether it made sense to build a new agreement and get things done for a several-year period or allow the event to mature a couple of years before entering into another five-year deal, " Savoree said. "In an ideal world, in what we want the fabric of the race to look like, it's not about only two years or three years or five years."

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

Fast Facts:

 

The city's deal

Race promoters exercised an option to extend the race through 2009 under the city's original agreement. Among other things, it calls for:

- The city to provide up to $150, 000 for services inside the track area. The promoter is responsible for cost overruns.

- The promoter to provide the city 200 tickets.

- Three free advertising spaces for the city.

[Last modified May 1, 2007, 00:40:33]


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