Gulfport knows how to throw a family-friendly party for big public crowds.
That history is going to be stretched to new levels with the inaugural Gulfport Grand Prix powerboat races and boat show event that will be located along most of the waterfront, in the downtown business area and on the bay from Friday, April 28 through Sunday, April 30 as officials expect attendance to reach nearly 25,000 over three days.
To compare, the annual Fourth of July fireworks event draws about 8,000 people at one time in downtown Gulfport, said Justin Shea, Gulfport’s cultural facilities events supervisor.
“That’s a shoulder-to-shoulder spectator crowd.”
Friday’s attendance is expected to be a maximum of 6,000 people, Saturday could bring from 6,000 to 8,000 and Sunday, the championship race day, could attract about 10,000.
Closure of city streets and a specific water area in Boca Ciega Bay have been strategically planned for weeks to make room to host the free event, he said. “There has been good talk between city staff and boaters. We’ve had enough lead time to talk with everyone” about moving anchored boats.
Access by Land
On land, parking logistics include special events rules for streets like 58th Street S., 12 remote vehicle lots and three free shuttle buses or vans that will be running continuously. Special handicap parking spaces on or near Shore Boulevard S. have also been designated for the event. If a street parking sign in the city is officially covered for the event, parking is allowed. Otherwise “follow all posted signs,” said Shea.
Ten of the remote parking lots are located throughout Gulfport while two are in the nearby cities of South Pasadena or St. Petersburg. Gulfport locations include: City Hall, 2401 53rd Street S.; the Holy Name Church grass lot, 5800 15th Avenue S.; and, the 49th Street Neighborhood Center, 1617 49th Street S. For a complete list of all parking with hyperlinks to locator maps, visit gulfportgrandprix.com/gulfport-grand-prix-parking-shuttle-service.
Access by Water
On the water, non-race boaters can anchor, idle or float nearby on Boca Ciega Bay outside the area known as the “Safety Zone,” which will be marked with temporary buoys. The area will be restricted from Friday, April 28 at 8 a.m. through Sunday, April 30 until approximately 8:30 p.m. On the water, it is located roughly from the middle of the Town Shores condominium complex west of the Recreation Center, south into the water about 1,200 feet, then east parallel to the city’s beaches and Casino area, past Williams Pier to a point that is three private properties beyond Veteran’s Park, then north back to shore.
The Gulfport police boat along with six volunteer boats from the Coastguard Auxiliary and Eckerd College groups in addition to fire boat 11 from the St. Petersburg Fired Department will be patrolling the water area.
The main land entrance to the fenced event will be on Beach Boulevard S. at 31st Street S. Another entrance will be at 58th Street S. and Shore Boulevard S.
Event hours are Friday from noon to 6 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For a detailed event map, visit gulfportgrandprix.com/map. For a complete three-day schedule, visit gulfportgrandprix.com/schedule.
In addition to the race action on the water, an antique and pleasure boat display will be staged along Shore Boulevard S. and boat-related vendor booths will line Beach Boulevard S. The command center for public safety and event staff will be the Historic Gulfport Casino, 5500 Shore Boulevard S.
And, there will be plenty of space for people drinking alcohol in open containers at the event.
“It’s the biggest wet zone we’ve ever seen in the city of Gulfport,” said Shea. “It’s from O’Maddy’s to the recreation field including the beach, but not Williams Pier or in the water.”
Part of the planning for the event includes the safety of water-based wildlife like manatees and dolphins, said Shea. “An elite observer from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be at the event. If wildlife enters the race course, it will be cleared.” A helicopter based out of Albert Whitted Airport in St. Petersburg will be a part of this workflow.
Best Viewing Areas Recommendation
“Williams Pier and Gulfport beach will be prime viewing areas,” said Shea. “If I personally was attending the event as a spectator, I would come down 58th Street S., find the first available parking spot next to the northbound lane, walk down to the waterfront with my beach chair and sunscreen, then set up on the beach.”
For the future, “the organizers would like to make this an annual event” so the city is considering planning “three years out,” said Shea.
See related Gabber story thegabber.com/gulfport-grand-prix-revs-up.