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Downtown St. Pete Prepares For Grand Prix Race

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Roberto Roldan/WUSF News

The Firestone Grand Prix kicks off in St. Petersburg on Friday, and restaurants and hotels already are stocking up and selling out.

City workers have spent weeks fencing off parts of Beach Drive. They will finish closing off other downtown streets where the IndyCar race takes place by Wednesday.
 
The course butts up against the historic Ponce de Leon Hotel. Traffic near the hotel is diverted and the hotel's loading dock has sometimes blocked by work around the race track. (For a list of road closures, visit the city of St. Petersburg's website here.)
 
Ponce de Leon Hotel Marketing Director Audrey Love said it's more than worth it. The hotel and the Ceviche restaurant on its first floor have been serving race-goers and drivers for over a decade.
 
Love said they have sold out all of their hotel rooms for the Grand Prix nearly every year.
 
"If you're coming and you don't want to stand all day, you get hungry, you want to sit and enjoy your drink," she said. "There's a lot of foot traffic from the hotel going next door. They can sit at the corner there and still watch the cars zoom by."
 
The draw of being a stone's throw away  from the track has been a large draw for those rooming at Ponce de Leon. It also brings in large crowds of people to Courigan's Irish Pub and other bars near the track.
 
Even Daniel McBride, a longtime hotdog stand owner, is stocking up on franks and buns ahead of the race. McBride said he has served hot dogs at Bayshore Boulevard and 2nd Avenue for more than 12 years.
 
His wife will likely help him at the stand Saturday, when he expects that Bayshore Boulevard in St. Petersburg becomes packed with spectators.
 
"I love the Grand Prix, but I just have to make sure I buy my ear plugs and stay away from the noise," he said.
 
The first of 15 races starts Friday morning. Gates open at 8 a.m.