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Grand Prix organizer’s track record shows promise

Preparation for this weekend’s Grand Prix of Baltimore will kick into high gear Thursday, as construction progresses on schedule and murmurs continue to circulate about what to expect from the city’s second downtown street race in as many years.

In May, when Race On LLC took over of the event and brought on Andretti Sports Marketing to promote it, organizers promised they wouldn’t repeat the previous owners’ mistakes. They vowed, in particular, to pay their bills and pay them on time.

And so far, it seems, they have quite the track record — so to speak — with keeping those promises.

Contracted vendors and city officials have all been paid in full, according to several people involved with the group’s financial dealings. Organizers have painted a rosy picture of the race’s success, and several vendors have commended their work ethic, but concrete sales figures supporting that assessment seem few and far between.

“The important thing, I believe, is that the current team that is in place has experience doing this type of event, and they’ve done it in such a professional manner in such a short time,” said David Raith, chief financial officer with the Maryland Stadium Authority. “They’re a great group of people to work with.”

Maryland Stadium Authority officials said the group made all its payments on time, including a $68,970 fee to rent parking lots around Oriole Park at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, and a $121,247 advance payment to cover any of the MSA’s other expenses.

The fees allowed race organizers to use MSA facilities for the pit lane, car corral and other elements of construction, said MSA Spokeswoman Jan Hardesty, adding that the group has been “ideal tenants who clearly have their act together.”

A spokesman for Centerplate, a catering company serving the Baltimore Convention Center that will be providing food and drink to hospitality suites around the track, said the company has received all payments from Race On. The spokesperson asked not to be named because of “all the negative press” about business transactions during the first Grand Prix.

The spokesperson confirmed that Centerplate did not get paid last year, but Mayer said the catering company received “in the high six figures,” for this weekend’s event.

Other contracted vendors did not return calls for comment, and Race On LLC backers J.P. Grant and Greg O’Neill were not available for comment Wednesday, according to their spokesmen.

Mayer said they’ve prepaid $360,000 in taxes owed to the city, and that the state will extract its 10 percent admissions and amusement tax from total ticket sales before his group sees any revenue.

Organizers won’t reveal the number of tickets sold or if revenue is high enough to justify their investment. Though keeping that information private is common practice for this kind of event, there’s been some speculation about a “sophomore slump” in ticket sales.

Organizers only had about four months to plan and promote the event, and the online deal marketer LivingSocial sold about 5,000 tickets at heavily discounted prices last week. Race On secured big-name sponsors as recently as this past Monday, when Verizon Wireless became the event’s “official wireless sponsor.”

The presenting sponsorship also arrived late in the game — Chrysler Group’s Street and Racing Technology (SRT) brand was signed in mid-August.

Even if tickets aren’t flying out of the box office as fast as organizers make it seem, Mayer said he stands by previous predictions that the race will be profitable by 2013.

“This is an investment in the future,” he said. “From what I know of the numbers now, I think next year is a realistic goal to break even.”

Last year’s organizers, Baltimore Racing Development LLC, racked up about $1.5 million in unpaid bills to the city and about $12 million in debts to unpaid vendors. The city terminated its five-year contract with the group at the end of last year.