City council takes hard look at the St. Petersburg Grand Prix

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There's tension between the promoters of the St. Petersburg Grand Prix and city leaders.

The men who organize the race Thursday explained their situation to the city council.  They were clearly unhappy about having to do so. 

"This is an up or down vote" race promoter Kevin Savoree told council members, "You guys want us, you want us.  You don't want us, we understand."

The tensions follow unexpectedly early race dates for 2016:  March 11 - 13.  That is at least two weeks earlier than in previous years, and the early August announcement came much later than in the past. 

The Dali Museum and the Mahaffey Theater, after blacking out the usual time frame, had already booked events for that week.  Their plans had to be changed, and the door opened on what was supposed to be a routine extension of a contract to race in years 2018 through 2020. 

"Our team is looking very closely at the contract and looking at the impact of the race to St. Pete" city development administrator Alan DeLisle told FOX 13 News, "But for the most part, the date issue."

Some council members appeared satisfied with Thursday's explanation of how the 2016 dates came to pass. 

The promoters act as the go-between for Indy Car racing and the city.  The mayor's office prefers it being the season opener for U.S. open wheel racing.  It attracts more out of town visitors and receives more advance media attention. 

City officials claim that adds about $5 million to the estimated $20 million direct economic impact of the annual event. 

The promoters act as the city's agent in scheduling the race through the sanctioning body.  "You're talking about balancing multiple events in multiple cities on multiple networks" Savoree explained, "And then they're trying to identify how our event on a network fits in with all that."

Some council members now question the $210,000 city subsidy the event receives, plus $250,000 provided by Pinellas county's tourism bureau.  "We want to look at the terms of the deal" councilman Karl Nurse told the promoters. 

Councilman Jim Kennedy agreed, saying "We are a different city than we were when this race started."

The promoters scoffed at the suggestion of putting running the race out to competitive bid.  "Over the years promoters around this country and around this world have come and gone like a yo yo" Savoree said, "So, two words:  Good luck with that." 

DeLisle warned council members to tread carefully.  "The downside on this could be we end up with no race" he cautioned.