Baltimore Grand Prix organizers said Monday they will make this year’s event more business-friendly, making changes to scheduling, race course access and street closures.
“We want to be good neighbors,” said Timothy A. Mayer of Andretti Sports Marketing, the general manager of the race. Race On LLC, the company behind the commercial and operational aspects of the Baltimore Grand Prix, has hired Andretti Sports Marketing as the promoter for this year’s event, which will be held Aug. 31 through Sept. 2.
Last year’s Grand Prix, which was run by a different company, brought in an estimated 160,000 fans and had an economic impact of about $47 million.
“Most of the public viewed the race as a positive event for the city,” said J. Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, but the impact on some local businesses was negative.
Beth Hawks, owner of Zelda Zen, a boutique in Federal Hill, said she and many other small business owners in Baltimore experienced a significant dip in business during last year’s Grand Prix.
“Federal Hill was literally locked off from the whole area … they just fenced us all off,” said Hawks, adding that she visited neighborhoods such as Little Italy, Canton and Hampden, where other business owners told her that they also were not getting business.
“I feel comfortable speaking for most of the businesses in the Baltimore area, we lost lots of money,” said Gia Blattermann, owner of Café Gia in Little Italy. “It caused our regular slow weekend to come to a halt.”
Part of the problem, said Fowler, was that fans were not leaving the race venue.
“Some restaurants felt like they could have gotten more business last year,” said Fowler. “Many of the attendees stayed at the race course well beyond the last race and ended up spending their money in the race footprint.”
Planners said they have been reaching out to stores and restaurants in the city to see how the event can work better for the local businesses, said John Lopes, president of Andretti Sports Marketing.
“We’re trying to get to know everybody,” he said, especially in the restaurant business. “We’ve actually been trying to eat it all up.”
Said Blattermann: “They’ve definitely reached out to us, and that has been a plus. That’ll be a plus I think for the Grand Prix and for Little Italy.”
The planners have also made changes to the daily schedule and to access to the race venue that they say will help area businesses.
Racing will end each day at 6:30 p.m. this year, and other events in the venue will conclude by 7 p.m., said Mayer. Last year, races ended two to three hours later, he said, making fans less likely to eat dinner outside the race venue.
Ticketholders will now be able to re-enter the races throughout the day as well, said Mayer, allowing fans to visit other parts of the city throughout the day.
Fowler said that these changes will certainly improve the economic impact of the race for local businesses, especially the earlier conclusion of race events.
“When the races are over, people will flood out to the rest of downtown and patronize the various restaurants,” he said.
The race planners have also been working to communicate more effectively with the public about traffic changes due to the race, Lopes said.
“I don’t think anyone fully understood [last year] whether there would be an adverse traffic impact,” said Fowler, even though “many streets were virtually empty.”
Information will be available online detailing a simpler traffic plan for the race weekend, said Mayer, and mailers will be sent to local residents. The planners have also worked to ensure that construction and roadwork will not cause congestion on the roads that will be open, he said.
In addition, steel gates will be used this year to block off the streets that are closed for the races, instead of concrete partitions. The gates are easier to open and should allow for easier travel at the end of each race day, said Mayer.
Andretti Sports Marketing announced three multi-year national sponsorships Monday by Sunoco, Giant Food and Dr Pepper Ten. They had announced a sponsorship agreement with CBS Radio in May.
Last year, the Baltimore Grand Prix had more than 20 sponsors, including Sunoco, Dr Pepper, Geico Insurance, Under Armour, M&T Bank and Budweiser.
Andretti will be announcing another national sponsor this week or early next week that has not previously sponsored the race, said Lopes. The national sponsorships, he said, are key in gaining support and sponsors from the local community.
“They create credibility,” he said.
Race On took over operations late in the game, when Downforce Racing LLC missed several planning benchmarks and lost its contract. Baltimore Racing Development LLC planned the race in 2011, but lost its contract after accumulating $12 million in debt.