DNR OKs scaled-back Red Bull Rallycross on Belle Isle

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Detroit — State officials overseeing Belle Isle have issued a permit for a motorsport event in July. Approval came less than a week after some Detroit residents complained the island was becoming more racetrack than park.

But Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources says its agreement with Red Bull Global Rallycross comes with several conditions it hopes will placate critics. The race will be July 25 and 26, with set-up and take-down activities completed in the three days before and three days after the event.

The park will remain accessible to regular patrons throughout that stretch.

It’s a shortened timeline for the race event, which originally would have lasted several more days. And it’s one of several changes to the original Red Bull proposal negotiated after residents registered their complaints at a June 18 meeting of the Belle Isle Park Advisory Committee.

According to its website, Red Bull’s Rallycross track features “a mix of dirt and tarmac, as well as a signature 7-foot jump, all designed to challenge drivers and excite crowds of all ages.” The cars are production-model Fords, Chevrolets, Volkswagens and Subarus that are modified to racing specifications.

In addition to a shortened schedule, Red Bull has agreed to:

■Make a $75,000 contribution to Belle Isle Park, up from an original planned donation of $25,000.

■Pay for 500 recreational passports for Detroit residents to be distributed by the DNR and the park’s advisory committee.

■Have all parking for race patrons located off-island with ticket-holders accessing the park via shuttle service.

“After some deliberations, (Red Bull) was willing to shrink the template of the event so it wouldn’t affect park users,” said Ron Olson, chief of the DNR’s parks and recreation division. “There should be no impact to our regular park users.”

Red Bull will also guarantee a start time for the Saturday race, late enough to avoid interfering with a scheduled life walk/run organized by the Minority Organ Tissue Transplant Education Program. The organization encourages organ and tissue donations and will be given two television spots during the broadcast of the race.

It is unclear whether such concessions from the race organizers will address those who live near and use the park. The Rallycross will be the second major race event on the island in less than two months. Chevrolet’s 2015 Belle Isle Grand Prix, held May 29-31, drew roughly 65,000 fans.

That crowd, spread out over a weekend, caused fits for some Detroiters, including Mary Ellen Howard, who lives near the bridge that accesses the island. At the advisory committee meeting last week, she had harsh words for the state, as well as race organizer Roger Penske.

Michigan’s DNR took over operation of Belle Isle from Detroit early in 2014. It was, at the time, a controversial step that many city residents opposed. And it was clear last week there are still concerns.

“We have to stop selling our island and our city to the highest bidder,” Howard told panel members.

Michelle Hodges, president of the Belle Isle Conservancy, said she knows full well the balancing act needed to accommodate the disparate parties interested in how the park is managed. Less than 18 months into the state’s 30-year lease of the park, it’s still a work in progress, she said.

“We’re listening very closely to all of the feedback we’ve been getting,” she said. “There is an ongoing strategic planning process that will help us better identify the interests of our park users.”


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