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

Posted on 31 August 2012 by Nestor Aparicio

(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

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Here we go again: Is this Baltimore Grand Prix worth all the fuss, expense & nuisance?

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Here we go again: Is this Baltimore Grand Prix worth all the fuss, expense & nuisance?

Posted on 31 August 2012 by Nestor Aparicio

I’ve seen how this Baltimore Grand Prix idea works when it’s successful. And in theory, it sounds outstanding.

The government builds infrastructure (see Camden Yards sports complex) and it lures commerce into the basin of the city where folks who don’t live in Baltimore actually come to our city and spend money and enjoy themselves enough to want to come or at least tell their friends that the Charm City is actually “charming.”

So, while The Wire and Homocide: Life On The Streets always seems to show the darker, seedier side of Baltimore, these sporting events are allegedly “state sponsored” as a way of creating public relations, marketing and the long tail of telling the story of Baltimore.

I attended the inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix last Labor Day weekend. I wrote an extensive analysis of 2011′s events here and reposted this morning at WNST.net.

As I said last year, we have a baseball team here in Baltimore that should be the leader to draw 150,000 downtown on summer (and fall) weekends.

The Orioles had a stadium built with your money 25 years ago. It was built to be the Taj Mahal of our city and served that purpose until the greediest man in the state got control of the baseball team and has turned into a source of civic despair over the past 15 years. It’s so bad that now that the team is winning most folks are yawning into September and the commerce the team drives on any given night for any average business owner in Baltimore is completely negligible.

The dirty little secret that the bought-off media in Baltimore won’t tell you is that Peter Angelos doesn’t care if you buy a ticket or not. He’s making $100 million in profit off of your TV money.

As for the Baltimore Grand Prix and this civic idea to fill hotels and the Inner Harbor, they actually need you to show up and spend money this weekend. This is the second year that my neighborhood has been ripped apart for six weeks in an attempt to draw the same 150,000 people downtown that the baseball team was supposed to draw by being competitive. Yesterday, the Orioles used the Grand Prix as an excuse for why no one came to see a baseball team that is 14 games over .500 as we head to New York for a Labor Day weekend show.

There are plenty of hotel rooms left for the weekend all over the city. That doesn’t happen on a “big” weekend in any major city.

No one in my neighborhood got a “vote” on the issue.  It’s six weeks of destruction for my neighbors and anyone who accesses downtown on a daily basis. It’s the second year. And they’re still trying to give tickets away and get someone, anyone to care about IRL or Grand Prix racing. If the city didn’t allow the Orioles to be destroyed, they could get the same 150,000 people downtown this weekend for baseball games.

Last year the organizers said there were 125,000 people. They also told their vendors and the city that they’d pay the bill.

I looked out my window this morning and the event has been greatly “downsized” for 2012 in a lot of apparent ways. They know they’re not drawing anywhere near the six figures of last year.

Ask the vendors who didn’t sell any beer and the businesses that lost money all over the city because people feared the traffic that never happened. I live here. No one is buying me off with a lucrative partnership to lie

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