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Protesters: 'Belle Isle no place for a car race'

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — A small group of conservationists gathered outside Belle Isle Park Saturday to protest the annual Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix being held at the park. 

A Penske box truck passes protesters while preparing to drive onto Belle Isle.

Protesters along Jefferson Avenue held signs reading "Take back Belle Isle" and "We don't hate the race, just find another place - ya gotta Belle-Leave."

Belle Isle Concern, an organization focused on getting the race removed from the island, organized the protest Saturday. The group believes Detroit's island park should be a public space for residents, not a private Indy racetrack. 

The protests come as the future of the Detroit Grand Prix remains up in the air as an existing five-year agreement to host it on Belle Isle is set to run out this year and organizers discuss whether to drive ahead.

Read more: Future of Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle unclear

The Grand Prix will offer three days of events on the raceway on Belle Isle from June 1-3, drawing nearly 100,000 fans, primarily from Wayne, Oakland, Macomb, and Wastenaw counties. 

This is the third year the group has protested the annual event, and organizer Sandra Novacek says they will continue to do so as long as the race continues there.

"Belle Isle is a park, it's not a race track," Novacek said. "Twenty percent of the park is being used to promote a car race, a place that is supposed to be for residents to escape the hecticness of city life."

Organizers of the race say it is an important part of the city's resurgence and contributes $45 million to $50 million annually in economic development.

Michael Montri, President of the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix, said organizers appreciate the passion for Belle Isle and are listening to their feedback on the Grand Prix. Montri also said $13 million dollars in improvements have been made on the island since 2007, "thanks to the help of our partners."

“With the significant operational improvements we have made, and will continue to make, as a result of this feedback, we are certainly focused on being good partners with the community," he said in a statement. "The Grand Prix is a very positive event for Detroit and our region and the event has made an important and lasting impact on Belle Isle."

Protester Nancy Poprafsky, 64, of Royal Oak, protests at the foot of the Belle Isle bridge.

Grand Prix Chairman Bud Denker told The Detroit News on Tuesday there aren't any other locations within the city that would be viable for hosting the event, including suggested sites such as Detroit's City Airport and the former State Fairgrounds. Organizers, he said, aren't looking to move the event outside of the city, either.

Belle Isle Concern is taking advantage of the end of the agreement by "asking the Department of Natural Resources to not renew the agreement and to do the right thing... ask them to move," said Novacek. 

When asked where the race should move to, she said, "that's not really our job to find them a place, just don't have it in our public park."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_