Indy racing proponent still expects green light in Baltimore

Posted: 9:19 pm Fri, January 22, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer

The head of a group trying to bring a street race to downtown Baltimore believes the city is well on its way to being placed on the IndyCar Racing League circuit next summer.

“I’m pretty certain it’s going to happen,” said Jay Davidson, chief operating officer of Baltimore Racing Development LLC. “I’d say we’re at 90 percent.”

Despite turmoil in city leadership — Mayor Sheila Dixon steps down next month, and the incoming administration faces a budget deficit of approximately $127 million — plans to bring the first grand prix-style race to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are still revving up.

Incoming mayor and Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake supported the project when Davidson’s group pitched the idea to the city last summer and is still “very excited about the prospect,” her spokesman, Ryan O’Doherty, said.

Councilman William Cole IV, a proponent of the race — his district is home to much of the proposed race track — said he believes the potential in revenue for the city, estimated at $60 million to $100 million, is a top selling point.

“At end of the day the incoming mayor will have to evaluate the situation, and knowing she’s been an early supporter, and because of the economic impact, I know she’ll make the best decision,” Cole said.

According to Davidson, BRD is eyeing the first two weekends of August 2011 as potential race dates and hopes to reach a five-year agreement with the racing league. The league plans to announce next year’s circuit cities in July or August, a spokeswoman said.

She added that talks have been positive with Baltimore.

“Baltimore is a market that aligns well with our goal of a presence in the mid-Atlantic and is supported by an enthusiastic and professional promotional group,” the spokeswoman, Amy Konrath, said.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle the race’s supporters face is getting the city’s Board of Estimates to sign off on the event’s costs. Davidson’s group recently completed a race course study that evaluated the feasibility of the proposed street track, which loops from the Camden Yards Sports Complex to Light Street at the Inner Harbor. But the cost estimates for road repairs are still being compiled.

Darrell A. Doan, the Baltimore Development Corp.’s director of economic development, east, is negotiating the contract with BRD on behalf of the city.

“The contract will identify the amount of money, if any, the city would contribute to road improvements, subject to the city’s current fiscal restraints and budget situation,” he said.

All sides seem wary of Baltimore’s budget deficit. Cole said the track designer has been making “tweaks” to cut down on the costs. He noted that many streets included in the race course are already slated for repaving, so that would not be considered an additional cost.

“They’re being frugal because everybody understands that these are not rich times … but by and large, I think most of this can be done without having to dip into any major construction pots,” he said.

BRD has also finished a noise study, which found that much of the roar from the cars could be pushed upward with temporary barriers and grandstands along the Conway Street straightaway. That portion is expected to be the loudest part of the track, said Davidson, and he noted it was also mostly commercial development, limiting the impact on residents.

A third study about how traffic, public transportation and parking will be managed should be completed by early this week, Davidson said. BRD is also working with the city and the state on an economic impact report.

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