Grand Prix race track thrills fans, creates challenges for some businesses

By Fallon Silcox, Reporter
Last Updated: Friday, March 03, 2017, 10:30 AM EST

With the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg festivities a week away, last-minute preparations are ongoing in downtown St. Petersburg. 

And while there is plenty of excitement ahead of the Indy-car races, not everyone is overjoyed about trying to navigate downtown and the race's impact on local businesses. 

The problem is the track winds through downtown St. Pete, blocking roads and limiting access for some shops, stores and restaurants. 

"It takes a long time," downtown resident Harry Janes said of walking around during the race weekend. "I go out for a walk with my wife in the morning but we have to really go out of our way and try to find our way around."

The road's raceway has been under construction for a few weeks, transforming the streets of downtown St. Petersburg into a 1.8-mile, 14-turn waterfront racetrack. 

RELATED: Sara and Felix Go-Karting with the pros!

The track now includes downtown streets circling Pioneer Park, the Duke Energy Center for the Arts, The Dali Museum and extending onto the runways at Albert Whitted Airport, which overlook Tampa Bay and the picturesque St. Petersburg Harbor and Marina. 

That's where the problem, albeit temporary, comes in. 

"What we have is barriers put up in front of our business," said Dr. Khalilah Weston, who owns the Aria Health and Wellness Institute. "That impedes traffic traveling down the street and impedes our parking for our business." 

Weston's 1st Street business sits just feet from the racetrack. She said she has been forced to shut down everyday during the actual race due to the closures and noise. She said she also loses business in the weeks and days leading up to the event. 

"It's a month," Weston said. "It's a month of this for the patients. The ones who are really die hard and wanting to come to the clinic and see the physician will come and go through it, but it's really difficult for them." 

Still, Weston said she realizes the amount of foot traffic the race brings and the benefits the event brings to the community. She said she would just like to see a more efficient set up and break down of the race. 

It is estimated the race brings in tens of millions of dollars to the local economy and international exposure. 

Qualifying rounds for the race start next Friday and go through Saturday with the main event taking place Sunday afternoon. Race weekend also includes a fan village, live music, autograph sessions, a beer garden and interactive games and exhibits.