Here at last.
After 18 months of planning, racing begins Friday for what organizers hope to be the first of many Baltimore Grand Prix weekends. City officials are expecting at least 100,000 visitors to watch cars race along a 2.1-mile course over downtown streets.
But things did not go smoothly for commuters Thursday morning.
Road closures created gridlock in and around the course. Social media sites were crammed with tales of two-blocks-in-30-minute (or longer) travails.
Even the Baltimore Orioles, who moved their game against the Toronto Blue Jays to 12:35 p.m. to accommodate final Grand Prix construction, were affected.
According to the Associated Press, 90 minutes before game time, Orioles manager Buck Showalter was seriously concerned about whether all his players would arrive on time.
“I don’t know who’s going to make it yet,” he said. “I’m in the mood to say something real stupid that I’ll regret.”
O’s pitcher Chris Jakubauskas told the AP he thought allowing two hours for his mile-and-a-half trip would be sufficient.
“I underestimated that situation,” he said. “I know they’re trying to bring money into the city by having a big race here. But I think the planning on the traffic part was a little lackluster.”
But before Thursday, many of the city’s businesses said they would brave the congestion and stay open.
“It’s essentially business as usual,” said Brian Lewbart, a spokesman for T. Rowe Price Inc. The company’s office at 100 E. Pratt St. is staying open during the race, as will its investor center at Lombard and Calvert streets. But some associates and services, like trading and investing, have moved to the company’s site in Linthicum, while other staff members have opted to work from the company’s offices in Owings Mills, Lewbart said.
For three days, race cars will be mere yards from restaurants, hotels and business towers during the Grand Prix. With the track coursing through many of Baltimore’s main streets, businesses have been planning for months how to stay open — or closed — when the racing starts Friday.
The University of Maryland’s downtown campus, which has buildings along Lombard, Redwood, Pine and Baltimore streets, will close for four days because of the Grand Prix, from Friday through Labor Day.
The hospital will be open, although employees have been warned of parking issues for the weekend, said spokesman Bill Seiler.
But the medical center and research buildings will stay open, and security will be stepped because many of the campus garages are public.
Campus police will work with the city to patrol the area, said Robert Rowan, the university’s associate vice president for facilities and operations.
Friday and Saturday classes have been rescheduled, and new students planning to move onto campus have been warned about the added traffic, Rowan said. The university will keep about 4,000 of its 6,000 parking spaces open to the public during the weekend. One of those garages will be used by the race’s organizers, Baltimore Racing Development LLC, Rowan said.
Baltimore Racing Development employees and city officials have said the noise shouldn’t disrupt business, and neither should the traffic from visitors coming to the race. Organizers have been meeting since spring with businesses and community groups in the area that will be affected by the road closures to answer questions about the weekend event and the construction during the weeks and days that lead up to the race.
Constellation Energy Group, which has offices at 750 E. Pratt St. and 111 Market Place, will allow employees in certain departments to work from home if traffic and detours prove to be difficult, spokesman Lawrence McDonnell said in an emailed response to questions. Some employees may be sent to alternate offices, but otherwise business will continue, he said.
Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., at 110 W. Fayette St., will have a similar work-from-home policy for its downtown employees at the discretion of supervisors, said spokeswoman Linda Foy. Many employees will be on standby for the race, should they be needed for emergency work.
But some businesses are not only holding regular business hours, but are focusing their efforts on the Grand Prix.
Broadcast Sports Inc., a wireless camera and audio system provider in Hanover, is providing its technology for the in-car and on-board cameras for the races.
Broadcast Sports will provide 17 on-board camera systems, four hand-held cameras, five wireless announcer systems, and even a helicopter with a camera.
A command center has been set up in the World Trade Center on Pratt Street that will oversee the city’s several hundred security cameras and hundreds of officers of several state, city and federal departments deployed on the streets.
About 20 to 30 employees from different agencies will work 12-hour shifts for around-the-clock coverage during Grand Prix weekend, said Robert Maloney, director of the Baltimore City Office of Emergency Management.
“Our mission is focused on all aspects of the Grand Prix,” Maloney said. “Making certain medic units get to hospitals, that air traffic of Maryland State Police is given aerial coverage. It’s our job that continuity of operations of the city remains intact. And so the race is just one small piece of it.”
Maloney said that while command centers have been set up for events including Artscape, Fourth of July celebrations and the Preakness Stakes, the Grand Prix will be the largest event he has had to monitor.
And some businesses have chosen to be closed on Friday as a result of the hubbub.
After Thursday’s game, the Orioles players and coaches flew to Florida for a weekend series against the Tampa Bay Rays. The team’s offices in the B&O Warehouse will be closed until Tuesday, team spokesman Greg Bader said.
The Maryland Stadium Authority, which also has its offices in the B&O Warehouse, will be closed Friday, said public information officer Jan Hardesty.
The race course’s pit road is directly in front of the warehouse.
The U.S. District Court and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Baltimore, both located in the Garmatz Federal Courthouse at 101 W. Lombard St., will be closed on Friday. The Baltimore City Circuit Court will remain open but has not scheduled any trials for the day. A notice on the circuit court’s website advises visitors to allow an extra hour for travel time on Friday.