ST. PETERSBURG, Fl. — It’s a big debate: trying to get back to normal while also keeping the community safe as COVID-19 cases continue to climb. That delicate balance is now leading to heated debates in St. Pete over large events being hosted in the city. Crews are currently setting up for next week’s St. Pete Power and Sailboat Show. The event typically attracts 15,000 people to St. Pete’s waterfront. Yet, the 43rd annual event is set to look much different.
Christopher Fleming, St. Petersburg’s Power and Sailboat Show Director, says they’ve had to make a lot of last minute changes. “It’s a lot. It’s down to redesigning tents and layouts in the last two weeks,” he said.
The event will require face masks temperature checks and will use a paperless ticketing system. They will also use ambassadors to enforce mask mandates at the event.
“We’re working on creating a safe environment to allow people to go out and social distance and not live in fear but be respectful of COVID and able to work with it,” Fleming added.
The St. Petersburg Mayor approved the event after carefully reviewing the event's COVID prevention plans.
Yet, some city council members worry major public events are too dangerous to host as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
“We really need to be more careful about the types of large events that take place in our city until we can get this thing under control,” City Council Member Gina Driscoll added. Pinellas County’s two week COVID-19 positivity rate is just over 10%. Robert Blackmon, who also serves on the St. Pete City Council agrees that changes could be made, but he also realizes events are an important part of St. Pete’s economy and tourism. “I think we need to have a check and balance where two weeks out before an event we revisit should we have this event or not?” Some city council members would like to see event precautions taken one step further: Like requiring events to sell timed tickets like what we’ve seen with the Van Gogh exhibit at the Salvador Dali Museum in St. Pete or even requiring events to cancel if we reach a COVID-19 percent positivity rate of 5% or higher. At least one event, the St. Pete Grand Prix is now pushing their race back a full month and a half to April 23-25, with hopes COVID-19 cases will decrease. Kevin Savoree, an organizer of the St. Pete Grand Prix, says it was a decision they felt compelled to make. “No one wants to put an event on where we are going to put our fans or employees at risk,” he explained. St. Petersburg requires every event to submit a COVID-19 mitigation plan, but now, leaders may look into new ways of balancing getting back to the events we all miss…while keeping our community safe. “We all love these events, but we have to take our health and safety into consideration first,” Driscoll elaborated.