Much work before a green flag drops in Baltimore

Daily Record Business Writer
July 7, 2009 8:15 PM

City and state officials are behind it. The economic impact study estimates $100 million could be in store for Baltimore.

With the office buildings as a backdrop, safety workers untangle cars during April’s Grand Prix of Long Beach, which features the same type of cars that organizers want to bring to Baltimore in 2011.But bringing an IndyCar Series street race to the Inner Harbor also represents a massive logistical responsibility and is far from a sure thing in 2011.

From repaving streets to rerouting traffic and public transportation routes to installing sound barriers to keep out noise pollution in surrounding neighborhoods, a lot of elements need to be assessed before bringing the race here is a done deal.

“It’s an enormous, enormous undertaking,” said Terry Hasseltine, director of sports marketing for the state.

But Hasseltine and other city and state officials seem poised to do what they can to bring the event, and its estimated spending impact of $70 million to $100 million, here in two years.

Baltimore City Councilman William H. Cole IV said he plans on introducing a resolution in August supporting the racing series in Baltimore, and a spokesman for Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she plans on backing it. While the resolution would not necessarily make it easier to reallocate funds for race preparation, the support is important to outsiders.

“For us to be able to negotiate further with [the] Indy [Racing League] and for the private investments we need, we need to show them we have the support of the major stakeholders in Baltimore for this,” said Jay Davidson, a Baltimore attorney who is the chief operating officer of Baltimore Racing Development LLC, the group behind the push to bring a race here.

Davidson said that Baltimore Racing President Steven Wehner, a developer in Baltimore County, lined up a small group of investors, including two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., from all over the country to finance the feasibility study this past year. At a presentation a month ago, Davidson and Wehner told city and state officials they had found a four-day IndyCar event here could draw more than 150,000 visitors — outshining past four-day events like the Dew Tour, which drew about 53,000 and generated about $10 million in spending last year.

But to complete the remaining studies on traffic management and noise abatement, Davidson said the company needs additional investors and is also asking for state financial assistance for an amount “significantly under half a million [dollars].”

Hasseltine said Tuesday it was too early to talk about the state’s role in funding the final studies, but did note, “When you’re looking at $70 [million] to $100 million in impact, what they’re looking at is pennies by comparison.”

Michael Frenz, executive director of the Maryland Stadium Authority, said it’s too early for his organization’s official involvement but noted he traveled with Hasseltine to see an IndyCar race in St. Petersburg, Fla., and was impressed by the event. The authority would be responsible for negotiating race dates with its tenants, the Orioles and the Ravens, and would ideally shoot for a summer weekend for minimal impact.

He added Camden Yards would also be one of the staging areas for spectators, and the authority would consider renting out the ballpark suites.

In the meantime, Davidson said he and Cole are meeting with community and neighborhood organizations to talk about the potential impact of the race course, which would be a 2.4-mile loop around Camden Yards, the Convention Center and the Light Street corridor.

“We are telling leaders we believe we can mitigate what their concerns will be,” said Davidson. “We recognize there’s likely to be some inconvenience when you have so many people coming to the city. ... When you look at the economic impact that should help balance it out.”

Click here to access rest of story from TDR or e-mail author for full text.