City officials set to approve agreement for high-speed street race

May 04, 2010|By Julie Scharper | julie.scharper@baltsun.com | Baltimore Sun reporter

A plan to bring high-speed automotive racing to the streets of downtown Baltimore is on the mark, city officials say, and will soon be set to go.

A loop of streets surrounding the Inner Harbor would be transformed into a race course in August 2011 for a three-day event that organizers say could lure visitors from around the world and rival the Preakness in economic impact.

Wednesday morning, the city's spending board is set to vote on a five-year contract with the Baltimore Racing Development Corp. that would pledge nearly $8 million in state and federal funds to prepare 2.4 miles of road for the race.

"This event could put Baltimore on the map for all the right reasons," said Council William H. Cole IV, a chief proponent of the race, which would occur in his district. "The festival atmosphere will bring people into the city who have never been here before and the restaurants, hotels and businesses are going to have a weekend like no other."

The Indy Racing League is expected to finalize its deal with local investors within a couple weeks of the spending board's approval, said Baltimore Racing Development president Jay Davidson.

A call to the Indy Racing League was not immediately returned Tuesday.

The league, which pulled out of Richmond last summer after racing there for nine years, considers Baltimore its top choice in the Mid-Atlantic area, Davidson said. He expects the race to draw robust crowds from as far as New York and Virginia, as well as international fans.

"We are estimating 100,000 visitors over the three days, but think we can do better than that," Davidson says.

Known as the Baltimore Grand Prix, the event would be comprised of numerous smaller races, go-kart races and an automobile show, in addition to the official Indy Racing League-sanctioned contest.

The $8 million will be used to repave roads and alter sidewalks and medians to race standards. Both the preparation for the race and the race itself could disrupt traffic, but many community and business association leaders have signaled their support for the plan.

Paul W. Robinson, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, hopes the race will be a boon to businesses, although he is concerned about noise and traffic snarls.

"While we're supportive of the event, I'm not sure I'm ready to give the keys of the city to anyone who's involved in a commercial venture," Robinson said.

As part of the deal to be considered by the spending board, Davidson's group would pay $100,000 each year into a fund that the nearby community associations could tap into for park improvements or other projects,.

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