The new study by Forward Analytics called the event "a real win" for the city, even as it noted that downtown hotels lost out on some bookings to suburban competitors with fewer restrictions. Noonan, with Visit Baltimore, said both hotels and restaurants can do better next time after learning what worked and what didn't.
One problem: Local residents fled, not wanting to battle the crowds. Traffic jams Thursday night "scared a lot of people away from downtown," said Michael Evitts, a spokesman for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. Friday was very quiet.
"We had restaurants calling us, saying, 'Please spread the word there's no traffic,'" Evitts said. "They had a lot of reservations canceled after that apocalyptic Thursday."
Sergio Vitale, co-owner of the Little Italy restaurant Aldo's and the Harbor East restaurant Chazz: A Bronx Original, said it would help to next time have groups working together to persuade people from the region to come to Baltimore even if they're not watching the race. He'd also like organizers to set up a pavilion for local restaurants to sell food to racegoers, who showed a tendency to stay put in the race area.
Vitale says his businesses had — if anything — an even slower Labor Day weekend than normal. The race didn't send much business his way, but it kept regulars from showing up.
"If you were within the confines of the race, you did super," he said. "If you were east of President Street, the race didn't impact you at all — if it did at all, it was negative."
But he's a supporter of the Baltimore Grand Prix and thinks these issues will be ironed out over time. "That's part of the learning curve," Vitale said.
Downtown hotel occupancy averaged 70 percent from Friday through Sunday that weekend, up only slightly from last year — in part because a Navy-Maryland football game in Baltimore on Labor Day 2010 gave an unusual boost to hotel bookings that Sunday. Decisions by many downtown hotels to require minimum three-night stays also pushed some spectators to suburban hotels, including ones near the airport, the economic-impact report said.
But Visit Baltimore said downtown hotels made much more money than normal for the weekend, with average room rates around $180 rather than $120 a night.
Jason Curtis, general manager at the downtown SpringHill Suites by Marriott, said his hotel charged twice as much as it typically does for the weekend and sold out on Friday and Saturday. He's happy about the race ripple effect.
"I don't understand why some people are complaining," he said. "I think part of it is, people had such high expectations of what the Grand Prix was going to do."
Richard Clinch, director of economic research at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute, wasn't surprised that the race's impact doesn't appear to match up with organizers' initial expectations. An economic impact figure produced before an event occurs "always tends to overstate," he said.
Clinch, who looked at the new Visit Baltimore study at the city's request but was not paid to do so, said the methodology looks sound and the decision to exclude spending by Baltimore-area spectators means the figures shouldn't be unrealistically positive.
"I doubt it's a game changer," Clinch said of the race, "but I don't think it was a waste of funds, either."