Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Baltimore's Grand Prix: Out of Gas?

So, like most city residents, I have been watching this unfolding Baltimore Grand Prix saga with a mixture of both curiosity and dread.
I mean, when I think of Baltimore, the phrase “Formula One” racing doesn’t instantly pop into my mind. And, as much as some of the race’s loudest proponents are ready to elevate Baltimore into “Long Beach of the East” status, I’ll withhold judgment until I see whether the City can successfully pull off one race, let alone the four additional races to which it is now contractually pledged.
The race’s organizers cite a number of rosy statistics – more than 100,000 visitors to the Inner Harbor, an estimated $70 million economic impact in 2011 alone – as evidence of the event’s impending success.
And, I hope they’re right.
Earlier in my career I worked at the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, an organization involved in planning events beneficial for the City. I know how much hard work went into past undertakings of similar scope and impact, such as the Waterfront Festival, the Fish out of Water project, and the annual Monument Lighting. And, I certainly do not want to be one of those people who sits on the sidelines and bashes those trying to do something good for the City.
Still, I’m beginning to wonder if those planning the race really have their eyes on the road.
In a July Baltimore Sun article, race organizers said they met “75 percent” of their goal in terms of ticket sales for the race, and that certainly sounds encouraging. But as far as my gut instinct is concerned, I simply do not yet feel the degree of enthusiasm for the race its organizers claim exists.  
Among the people I talk to, about half are dreading the disruption the race will bring, a quarter say they will be out of town, and the remainder are either oblivious or looking forward to it.  

Judging by the facts, it looks like the race’s organizers have started too late in planning the race or promoting the benefits the race will bring the City.
As far as sponsorships are concerned, the Baltimore Grand Prix’s own website lists 16 sponsors, far less than the 35 – 40 they expected. To date, the race is without a $1 million “title sponsor.” True, the race added eight new sponsors – including M&T Bank – in July and August. But is this evidence of success or last-minute scrambling? You be the judge.
In terms of logistics, the controversy surrounding the evisceration of trees along Pratt Street to accommodate the race has proven an unwelcomed distraction for organizers just as they are trying to generate enthusiasm for the event.
In all fairness, the tree clearing was first reported last December. But when the trees actually started falling, this produced a backlash on the part of people already fed up with a year’s worth of road closures, millions of dollars in Grand Prix expenditures by the City and State, and other race-related annoyances.
One gets the sense that race proponents have not succeeded in educating the community to the extent needed during the run-up to the event. Race proponents like City Councilman William Cole have certainly worked hard and tried their best. But the most logical advocate and spokesperson, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, has been largely absent. She was involved in the kickoff, but she has largely eschewed any sort of public educator role.
I suspect timing and City politics have played a big role in this. The City mayoral primary is September 13th – about 10 days after the race ends. If the Grand Prix turns out to be a logistical disaster, or if incidents similar to the one at the Inner Harbor on the Fourth of July occur, then what looks to be a status quo election could experience some last minute drama.
Of course, none of this may matter in the end. The event could go off without a hitch, and all the naysayers may become me-tooists. Like I said, I certainly hope so.
At the start of this entry I mentioned feeling a sense of dread regarding the impending race. It’s kind of like how I used to feel when I lived in the Timonium and the Maryland State Fair returned: Too much traffic, too many crowds, too much disruption.
So, while I want the race to succeed, I plan on being far away if it does.  The only way I’d ever go is it I got to drive in it myself.

1 comment:

  1. When I think of Baltimore City, Monte Carlo does not accompany that thought. Neither does Steve McQueen. Glamorous Baltimore City ain't. Somehow I feel the same sense of doom you do as it's hardly being promoted, has no "names" attached to the sponsorships, and as far as drivers are concerned, the only Driver I can think of is Donald, the football player. For sure the city will lose money on the deal and the city taxpayer, already put upon by high taxes, crime, and poor government will end up paying the bill.