Officials hope the beach project sets a world record, but they say it is generating enough national publicity to justify the cost.
By EDIE GROSS
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 25, 2001
CLEARWATER -- Michael and Jitka Sejnohova weren't quite sure what to think of the giant sand sculpture towering over them on Clearwater Beach Wednesday evening.
At 30 feet tall, it set a world record as the largest sand monument dedicated to a sport -- one the couple from the Czech Republic does not follow too closely.
"We come from Europe," Michael Sejnohova said, gazing up at the twin sand football helmets, "so we don't know that much about this football."
But the sheer size of the creation merited quite a few photographs with the family's camera.
"It was a good idea," Jitka Sejnohova finally declared of the county's decision to build the sand sculpture as part of its Super Bowl activities.
Critics had blasted the St. Petersburg/Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau for spending $623,000 on a pile of sand. But county officials insisted Wednesday at the sculpture's official unveiling that the price, which included a laser light show and fireworks, bought Pinellas a considerable amount of national exposure.
In addition to several hundred people who gathered for the event, a bank of television cameras from stations all over the country lined the beach.
"This was first class," County Commission Chairman Calvin Harris said. "This is going to get Pinellas County some first-class recognition."
The sculpture, built by Team Sandtastic of Sarasota, features two 30-foot-tall helmets with the Giants and Ravens logos on them surrounded by 29 6-foot-tall helmets representing the other NFL teams. The monument will stand on the beach behind Sand Key Park until Jan. 29. Each evening, there will be a laser light show at sunset.
The sun set slowly Wednesday evening, leaving the event's emcees -- Harris, Clearwater Mayor Brian Aungst and Dharma & Greg star Jenna Elfman -- ad libbing until it was dark enough for the lasers to begin. Elfman used the time to gush about the Bucs and her love of Pinellas County's beaches.
"I get so overwhelmed by how beautiful they are, that sometimes I run into the ocean fully clothed," she said, adding that she does not do any such thing in her hometown of Los Angeles. "In L.A., you don't know who else is going to be in there."
As the sun dipped below the horizon, lasers beamed images of sea horses, fish and turtles onto a large balloon on top of the sculpture. Shafts of light from 7,000-watt bulbs shot from the top of each of the smaller helmets. Fireworks exploded behind the sculpture, launched from a barge in the gulf.
"It was great. We love the fireworks," said Giants fan Jim Hollingsworth, who moved to St. Petersburg from New Jersey last year. Scott Brody, director of operations for Guinness World Records Attractions in Orlando, said he probably will have to get in a cherry picker to properly certify the height of the 30-foot-tall helmets. He will send a report to Guinness World Records in London, which is expected to declare the sand sculpture the world's tallest. "I think it's fantastic," said Brody. "I cannot believe someone can work with that much sand."
Team Sandtastic used 3,000 tons of sand trucked in from a pit in Lake Wales to build the sculpture. Rain was not much of a problem during the 10-day construction period, but workers had to redo part of the Ravens logo early Wednesday after overnight winds smeared it a bit.
The sculpture will disappear, but the sand will remain as part of a beach renourishment project. "Too bad we can't preserve this and keep it as a tourist attraction," said Clearwater Beach resident Ann Casale. "I feel like I'm back in Egypt at the pyramids. When can you go to a beach in this country and see something like this?"