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BayWalk, boat events muscle into small space

Downtown plays host to a bevy of activities, including powerboat racing, a boat show and the opening of BayWalk.

By JON WILSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 15, 2000


photo
[Times photo: James Borchuck]
Jeanne Lazareff of Mays Landing, N.J., polishes a F-2 class racing powerboat Tuesday. The craft is one of many competing this weekend near The Pier in the largest offshore powerboat race in history.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Downtown is hours away from the rumble and the roar.

High-powered engines will start warming up in the Vinoy Basin this morning as what's billed as the largest offshore powerboat race in history starts its five days of activity.

The actual racing off The Pier is Thursday through Sunday. It's free to watch, and the best viewing is on The Pier itself, which can accommodate 10,000 people.

A $5 donation gains admission to the dry pit area in Vinoy Park at the end of Fifth Avenue NE, and race officials say the same ticket is good for parts of the wet pit on Bayshore Drive -- where the muscle boats are placed in the water.

Crowds typically pack the waterfront for this event, which this year is expected to bring about 150 boats in 12 professional classes and five classes for novices.

But get this: Opening Friday is BayWalk, the long-awaited entertainment and retail center two blocks west of the waterfront.

Furthermore: The St. Petersburg Boat Show is in the Bayfront Center Yacht Basin Thursday through Sunday.

And one more thing: A giant video wall in Vinoy Park will show Saturday night's Florida-Florida State game, college football's annual intrastate bloodletting. The Tampa Bay Bucs-Chicago Bears game will be broadcast Sunday.

"It going to be crazy, but we're looking forward to it," said Carol Perreault, owner of the Marketplace Express.

The coffee-and-snack shop, headquartered in the Cloisters condominiums at 284 Beach Drive NE, is one of the businesses in the epicenter of activities.

Expect traffic to be thick. Police recommend that motorists heading into downtown from other than nearby neighborhoods approach the waterfront along Fourth Avenue N or Fifth Avenue S.

If you're going somewhere downtown other than the waterfront, try not to go too far east. Fourth Street is a good demarcation line to keep in mind.

If you're bound for the Dome District near Tropicana Field, Grand Central or the antique-and-gallery row along Central Avenue, consider Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) or 16th streets.

Boat race activity started revving up Monday. Cranes that will lift the boats towered along Bayshore Drive, where traffic is blocked and fences keep back pedestrians. A pile driver's blows echoed off Vinoy Resort towers as finishing touches on temporary docks continued.

A brief, but heavy rain sluiced through on Tuesday morning, slowing the parking of the boats in Vinoy and Spa Beach parks.

Otherwise, preparations were going smoothly, said Michael Allweiss, chairman of the American Power Boat Association's Offshore Division, which has its headquarters in St. Petersburg.

By noon, a few dozen boats had found places in Vinoy Park. A truck trying to leave spun its wheels in fresh mud, and several people stopped to push. A frantic guitar riff from a blaring AC-DC tape yanked the mood up-tempo. Meat cooking in the Island Grille tent drew a few droolers.

"This is all a nice setup. Nicer than other places," said Davis Guimaraes, a Brazilian crew member for Team Virgin.

The racing teams come from around the world for the racing season's final event, which benefits PARC, a program for developmentally challenged children and adults.

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