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Announcement over new Grand Prix manager looming

The mayor’s office plans to announce Wednesday who it has chosen to take over the troubled Baltimore Grand Prix, but two of the three groups who have reportedly expressed interest in managing the event said they have not recently had a substantial conversation with the city.

Pending a final internal and legal review, the city plans to “enter into a 5-year agreement with a motorsports promoter to conduct racing events on the streets of downtown Baltimore on Labor Day weekend 2012 through 2016,” according to a statement issued by the Office of the Mayor. The Board of Estimates, which must approve all of the city’s spending, will vote on the contract the following week.

The inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix was held Sept. 2-4, 2011, and consisted of a 2-mile, 13-turn course on city streets that ran past the Inner Harbor and around Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

Organized by Baltimore Racing Development, the event generated $47 million, far below the organizer’s original $119 million prediction, which included $6 million in taxes. Actual tax revenue was $1.7 million for the city and $2.1 million for the state.

The city ended its five-year contract with BRD after the group failed to meet a Dec. 31 deadline to pay more than $1.5 million in debts to the city, as well as take steps to repay vendors and restructure the company. BRD owed as much as $12 million.

Dale Dillon, an Indianapolis-based contractor who became general manager for the 2011 race in its final weeks, is believed to be the front-runner for the contract. Dan Reck of Baltimore-based investment firm Wilkes Lane Capital, which is believed to be partnering with Dillon, said the company was waiting until the city’s announcement to comment.

“I believe he was a great resource and helped to pull the race off, and he seems to have the right expertise,” J. Kirby Fowler Jr., president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc., said of Dillon.

Geoffrey Whaling, founder and CEO of North American Motorsport Events Inc., said he submitted a proposal to the city last month to manage the event, but has only had one brief discussion with deputy mayor Kaliope Parthemos. Whaling said Monday was not aware of the impending decision until talking to The Daily Record.

“She said they’d be in touch with people that they want to speak further with,” said Whaling, who proposed establishing a nonprofit entity to run the event as the “Baltimore Green Grand Prix,” a 10-day alternative energy festival that culminates in three days of racing. Whaling’s proposal also included a celebrity race in hybrid or electric cars and a green automotive job fair.

“Our idea was to really focus on what the industry is doing, on the green technology,” he said. Baltimore would have been the first “Green Grand Prix,” but Whaling said he is planning two other similar events for 2013.

Whaling said Joan Pratt, the city’s comptroller, on Monday returned a call from him, but was not aware of the details of his business plan for the Grand Prix. Whaling said he urged her to consider if the organization that the city chooses to run the event will be “the best deal for the citizens of Baltimore.”

Sharon Grinnell, president of Owings Mills-based Grinnell Enterprises LLC, who along with Gregory O’Neill, of Curtis Bay-based BMW Construction Specialist Inc., submitted a proposal to organize the event, said Monday she has not heard back from the city “in a little while” and was also waiting for the city’s announcement.

Fowler said he supported the race going forward for another year.

“We went through a lot of roadway improvements leading up to the first race, and there might as well be a second,” he said Monday. Leading up to the race, the city spent $6.5 million in federal and state transportation grants to repave parts of downtown and areas near the stadiums.

However, Fowler said he hopes to work with the city and the new organizer to increase the benefit to local business, which last year did not see as much patronage as he hoped.

“There were too few sky bridges, so it took a very long time for people to get into the race track area, so they felt reluctant to leave,” Fowler said. Another deterrent from leaving was the nighttime entertainment within the track.

“It would be wonderful if at 6 p.m., the race would shut down and these tens of thousands of people would go to area restaurants and retail establishments,” he said.