Parking Woes and Charity: Gulfport Grand Prix

The second-annual Gulfport Grand Prix boat race is set to take off in under two weeks. The three-day event will run from June 1 to June 3, setting up shop between 58th Street South and 54th Street South in downtown Gulfport. 

Bob Joule and Joe Guenther are the event’s organizers, pushing the event through its second year in Gulfport. The pair say the Grand Prix is great for Gulfport’s tourism, particularly in the waterfront district where the race is held. 

“I know I personally own two businesses in that district and both of the businesses had record days that day,” said Guenther referring to BoTiki Boutique and O’Maddy’s Bar and Grille. 

“It drove in a lot of people,” said Guenther. “A lot of those people came in from all over, as far as Canada, that had never been to O’Maddy’s,” he said. He says that introducing new people to Gulfport is one of his goals in hosting the Grand Prix. 

However, along with new masses of people come parking challenges and other potential issues. 

In an article in the Gabber following the first Gulfport Grand Prix in April 2017, Gulfport City Councilmember Michael Fridovich said, “I heard there were some parking issues, but considering it was the first time having this event, it’s all about working out the bugs for next time, if we get it.”

When events are held in the city that require additional emergency workers, the organizers of the event are typically responsible for funding. In a Gulfport Council meeting on April 17, 2018, Joule and Guenther voiced concerns about the higher costs of fire and police personnel for the Grand Prix in 2018 versus 2017. The organizers donate proceeds from the Grand Prix to the Michael J. Yakes Foundation and say they were looking to increase the race’s revenue to ensure a donation. 

The pair also asked for an approval to close off the city’s public pier for the race, allowing the prix to charge for the prime viewing area, at $45 per two-day ticket. In addition, a request was made to close off 58th Street South to accommodate valet parking. The valet company, Courtesy Valet, said they would donate $1 out of the $12 cost per car to the foundation if an approval for the street closure was approved. 

Council granted both requests. 

Gulfport citizen Karen Love made her way to public comment at the following city council meeting on May 1, voicing concerns about the decision to close off the pier and the road.

“Following our last city council meeting, I was really, really upset,” said Love. “[Guenther] was asked one question, maybe two [at the April 17 meeting] and those questions were kind of just confirming what he was asking for.”

Love continued: “So there were minutes and minutes of talking about enforcing straws on our beach, but during public comment someone asked for something and it didn’t go through normal procedure, from what I could see.” 

At the end of that meeting, Mayor Sam Henderson addressed council and the attendees. 

“Any time you’re getting a new event off the ground you’re testing the waters to see if this event is going to work for Gulfport,” said Henderson. However, he expressed concern about the decision to allow 58th Street to be used for valet and for the pier to be reserved for VIP ticket holders. 

“Going forward, I will say that it’s one thing when we close off a street or close off a part of town, when we’re closing it off to traffic, but everyone is still welcome,” Henderson said. “So, it’s the VIP restriction that bothers me… I won’t be in favor of closing those things off, restricting people from coming in unless they have to money to come in.” 

“There’s been a little scuffle about the VIP tents and the event down there in Gulfport taking up parking and being a big event for three days and being a little inconvenient for a couple of the locals,” said Bob Joule. “But they’ve got to understand this is a benefit. This benefits the Yakes Foundation which is huge.  

“That’s needy kids and the elderly in Gulfport, so it’s staying in Gulfport.” 

According to organizers, the event did not generate profit last year, but the Gulfport Grand Prix donated $2,245 to the Michael J. Yakes Foundation. 

The final cost for last year’s event in April 2017 totaled $24,251.79, with $11,347 going towards extra police and fire department duty. The city of Gulfport co-sponsored last year’s event to the tune of about $13,000. That number does not include the cost of extra safety personnel.   

“The organizer of the event pays the public safety extra duty,” said Justin Shea, Cultural Facilities Events Supervisor for the city of Gulfport.

According to Shea, fire and police costs for this year’s event are estimated at $12,343, with $9,793 funding the weekend’s police force and $2,550 funding the fire department. These costs, covered by organizers, include marine patrol, parking, traffic and site security duties. 

Also of concern this year: the city’s new mooring field. According to Denis Frain, Harbormaster at the Gulfport Municipal Marina, buoys from the mooring field needed to be removed and reinstalled the create the race course, using a dive contractor to do so. The removal of the buoys is set for Thursday, May 24. 

“We gave them all the coordinates of all the buoys,” said Frain, speaking about the race organizers. “The course is set with the [Department of Environmental Protection].”

After the race, the buoys will have to be put back in place. According to Frain, the cost will be about $800, and will be covered by the Grand Prix organizers.

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