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‘I heard the Grand Prix…’ Part II

I’m posting random snippets of overheard conversations about the Grand Prix of Baltimore and fleshing out what I think the comments indicate about public perceptions of the race. Part I can be found here.

The characters: Two male twenty-somethings

The setting: Federal Hill, the land of twenty-somethings

The comment: “…because they must get so much foot traffic from people who are going to the race…”

This man was referring to businesses in the neighborhood, specifically those located on South Charles Street, which were within a mile from the race action. He seemed very confident his comment was correct; his friend nodded in agreement.

It is a logical thought – why wouldn’t race fans spill out into surrounding neighborhoods to do some shopping? It’s also a common one: Lots of people think city businesses benefit from the crowds.

I’ll be writing about this for Wednesday paper, but the short answer is, the Grand Prix is not an automatic boon for local businesses. Some do get more customers than usual, but depending on where they’re located and what kind of business they are, many others do not. Some owners say they actually do worse.

Still, many people still think businesses in neighborhoods such as Federal Hill see a ton of extra foot traffic, which, across the board, translates into more revenue.

From where are they getting this idea? And what impact does that belief have on their overall perception of the race?

As for the first question, your guess is as good as mine. (Feel free to supply your own theory in the comments section.) As for the second question, I’d say: a big one.

If a substantial number of people think the Grand Prix is good for business – and assuming those people consider that to be a good thing – then their attitude toward the race will be more positive than if they thought businesses did not benefit.

If they feel good about he race, maybe they’ll talk it up to their friends. Maybe they’ll boast to out-of-town relatives that the event is hugely popular and beneficial for Baltimore. Maybe they’ll buy a ticket themselves, if they feel like supporting such a great cause.

But here’s the thing: If most businesses don’t benefit from the event, then the public’s favorable impression (insofar as it’s based on that belief) is misguided, as are their subsequent actions.

Now the question is, so what? Does it matter why public attitudes are what they are? Once they are formed, widespread public beliefs have power to influence future policy and decision-making — such as how much effort city officials and race organizers are willing to make to find a spot for the event on the calendar next year. Once that happens, isn’t it irrelevant whether public beliefs were based on fact or fiction?

Maybe the idea that the Grand Prix is a blessing for business will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. People might start doing extra shopping or dining out because they think that’s “what you do” during Grand Prix weekend.

Or maybe not. I’m interested to find out.