Debate time: The many pros and cons of Baltimore Grand Prix for our city


(Originally published 9/7/2011) Like many of you who came downtown – or watched via television or social media from afar – this Labor Day weekend you formed some kind of opinion on the big race through the streets of our favorite city.

The very topic of the IRL and Baltimore Grand Prix has become quite the hot button of civic debate – as it should be, considering the cost, investment and inconvenience everyone who uses the city on a regular basis encountered in the lead-up for a weekend that went surprisingly well by almost anyone’s measurement, especially for an inaugural event with this kind of infrastructure issues and engineering necessities to pull off this whole extravaganza was impressive.

I’ve attended more Super Bowls, Final Fours, etc. than I can count and I can say that what Baltimore did over the last six weeks was “Super Bowl worthy” as far as building a fence around a city and getting the event done with flair and executed with pride.

As usual, this will be a lengthy missive. I don’t have a show to use four hours to give my perspective more color and flavor so I’ll take this space to do it today.

Let me say this from the outset: my perspective is different from almost any of you because I live in the neighborhood directly affected by the race and my business is a direct recipient of any local sports spirit. I know many of the residents and merchants in our area. I was involved in the very early stages of the race when organizers approached me looking for support and then later blatantly lied to me regarding WNST’s involvement.

I have the original feasibility plan sitting on my desk so I’m not an armchair quarterback on this one. I’ve seen it all unfold and these observations are sometimes a tad incongruent because I’m really on the fence about this event and what the goals will be moving forward now that the circus has left town and most of the folks who came to the event seemed to greatly enjoy the experience.

I know this much: many merchants were quietly angry on Friday before the race unfolded and many are still angry because the event was selective in who it benefited. I walked around. I chatted with many of them. The construction project around the city was very real and very costly to many businesses. There were nights when it took hours to traverse the engineering and traffic issues. Most businesses in the city did LESS business throughout the month of August because of the race and even a three-day shot in the arm didn’t offset the losses.

That said, I realize most of you don’t care about the local inconvenience and, quite frankly neither do I when it comes to what is good for the city, but it will be interesting to see if the critics and cynics and many angered local people will be able to embrace this event.

For those of you who have read any of my work, you know my stance on the Orioles’ sick demise is more about the civic bloodletting not only of spirit of Baltimore and the intangible pain of last place – but my beef with Peter Angelos is really about how the Orioles’ atrophy has wrecked the economics of downtown on spring and summer nights.

So when it comes to traffic around my crib, I’d love nothing more than to see major traffic jams 81 nights a year downtown because it would lower my property taxes and raise the quality and standard of my life in Baltimore as a city resident if the baseball team could ever get new ownership and rise from the ashes of this civic abyss.

So to my view there are three headlines that can (and will) be written and addressed here:

1.    Grand Prix declared major success by Mayor Rawlings-Blake, IRL people (that means owners), WJZ (and anyone else who profited off of it and would next year and into the future) and people who attended who had fun!

2.    Great weather and interested crowds create a can’t-miss event every year in Baltimore on Labor Day weekend

3.    Someone needs to do a real study on this because I’m not so sure this was a huge win for Baltimore even though it was kinda neat and fun and loud

Let’s start with No. 1 – those who are declaring a political victory.

No one got maimed. Lots of people came downtown. The weather was stunning for the most part. The event was a massive, massive undertaking and it came off with very few flaws outside of the actual transportation issues that are inevitable when you shut down a major metropolitan’s hub for traffic and commerce and literally use the streets as part of the event.

Everyone around Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake bunkered down in an effort to pull off this event, which would have been a political suicide