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Council gives grand prix the go-ahead

Now the promoter must get the 2003 race sanctioned by Championship Auto Racing Teams, or CART.

By BRYAN GILMER
© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 30, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Promoters qualified with the St. Petersburg City Council Thursday to turn a waterfront corner of downtown into a world-class auto racecourse in 2003.

The council weighed concerns about noise and traffic tieups on streets around the course but decided that worldwide television exposure, tens of thousands of visitors and the possibility of millions of dollars being spent in the city were more important.

They unanimously gave promoter Grand Prix Association of Long Beach the preliminary permission it needed to seek sanctioning for a race from Championship Auto Racing Teams. CART will consider the St. Petersburg proposal and a competing effort to stage a race in Hillsborough County.

"As we weigh the benefits and the burdens, the benefits of having a CART-sanctioned event far outweigh the burdens," council member Bill Foster said just before the unanimous vote.

Indeed, Grand Prix Association president and chief executive Christopher Pook painted a seductive picture for St. Petersburg officials. He asked the council to envision 100-foot yachts tied in temporary slips in Tampa Bay to watch the race as flattering images of St. Petersburg are beamed around the world. CART races have average television viewership of 49.3-million people, he said.

Pook promised to form a local non-profit foundation to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity in the week leading up to the race. And he promised to fill the downtown with deep-pocketed visitors, some of whom might so enjoy their stay that they move their homes or businesses here.

"In their home countries, CART drivers are literally heroes," he said. "Large quantities of fans travel from their countries to watch their heroes drive."

Pook reminded the council that his group has staged a grand prix race on the streets of Long Beach, Calif., for 27 years. He promised to use that expertise to make things go smoothly here.

"We will, in concert with your police department and your public works department, sit down and arrive at an efficient plan," he said.

CART spokesman Mike Zizzo welcomed the news of St. Petersburg's approval Thursday.

"We're extremely excited," he said. "This is just the start of the process for us. As a sanctioning body, we need to review the proposal and evaluate the proposed course layout. We have some work ahead of us. We also have a proposal regarding the Tampa Fairgrounds from another group we will continue to consider as well."

Zizzo pointed out earlier this week that Pook serves as a consultant to CART to locate new, urban street racing sites. Council members told Pook his group would have to get a CART sanction before they could approval a formal, detailed contract for the race in March.

The initial agreement would be for the race to be run annually for five years, and the promoters want to run the event for 12.

The council had a full day of other business. It also:

Voted 6-2 to move forward an ordinance that would ban discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals in housing, employment and public accommodations. Foster and council member John Bryan voted against. The ordinance was scheduled for a preliminary vote Dec. 20 and for a public hearing Jan. 3, when the council should take final action.

The version advanced Thursday is the more moderate proposal backed by council member James Bennett, which does not protect "transgendered" individuals or those with non-traditional "sexual identities" from discrimination, as a lobbying group had asked.

Authorized the city attorney to sue the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office to try to lower the assessed value of Tropicana Field. The property is subject to tax for the first time this year because of a Florida Supreme Court ruling, and the city is seeking to lower its $1.5-million net tax bill.

Approved the sale of a 122-acre tract of land in the Gateway area of the city to Grady Pridgen Inc. for $5-million. Pridgen plans to construct a factory there.

Provided more than $600,000 worth of financial guarantees so that a subsidiary of SunTrust Bank can redevelop the Plaza Fifth Avenue apartment building on 34th Street. The team plans to modernize the apartments and the facade of the stark white 1960s building in the Central Plaza section of town.

Abandoned a block of Third Avenue S and some alleys so the land can become part of a new Publix shopping center and apartment development on the southern edge of downtown.

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