Detroit Grand Prix to remain on Belle Isle

Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
The state OK'd a new three-year deal for the Detroit Grand Prix to continue on Belle Isle.

Detroit – The state will permit the Detroit Grand Prix to continue on Belle Isle for three years, with an option for two more, after agreeing with the organizers to reduce the disruption of the western third of the island and increase the fees.

The organizers, associated with Roger Penske and his companies, say the Raceway on Belle Isle will be in place, to varying degrees, for 60 days in 2019 and 59 after that.

The last contract, with the City of Detroit, provided for 84 days to set up and take down the track.

The organizers say the track was up for 62 days in 2018, after they had pledged to make it 69. They said good weather contributed to their brisker pace.

The fee for the permit will increase from $200,000 to $325,000, after the organizers proposed $300,000 last month, and the state Department of Natural Resources sought more.

An additional $125,000 fee must also be paid, and DNR will use it, as its discretion.

The organizers proposed an additional $85,000 in activities fees for events, including some on the large concrete apron, just north of the Belle Isle casino, that was constructed as a foundation for infield activities for the raceway, including the pits and private clubs for sponsors.

The state requested an additional $40,000, and the organizers agreed.

Read moreDetroit Grand Prix gets 3-year green light on Belle Isle

Ron Olson, chief of the DNR Parks and Recreation Division, said the department reached a final decision after considering the scope of public feedback and evaluating the costs and benefits of motorsports on the island.

“The Grand Prix and Belle Isle Park are important parts of Detroit’s history,” Olson said. “We believe that we have arrived at a plan that honors them both, while enhancing the long-term support critical to managing this unique state park.”

Critics renewed some of their criticisms, also expressed at a series of public hearing since 2017, including their accusation that DNR had caved in to monied interests by extending motorsports on the island greensward.

“In this sham of an approval process the major stakeholders in Belle Isle—the public—have had no seat at the table,” said Sandra Novacek, a local activist.

 “Olson and the DNR follow the dictates of Roger Penske and don’t really listen to the public.

“The voices supporting the Grand Prix have mostly been race volunteers recruited to come to recent meetings and others who have financial or personal stakes in the event,” Novachek said.

Read moreState will OK Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, with tweaks to proposal

But Olson cited three public meetings since September 2017 when DNR took comments, as well as a recent month-long opportunity to submit comments online.

The department received several hundred messages, Olson said, and they ran heavily in favor of allowing motorsport on Belle Isle.

And, Olson cited another consideration that the state clearly has welcomed, as it assumed jurisdiction over the island from the city during its recent bankruptcy: The fees and contributions from the racing organizers and their partners is financing improvement on the island, for which the state has not otherwise budgeted.

Since 2007, Olson said, the motorsports have financed $13.5 million in improvements to natural and cultural resources, including the Recreation Passport sponsorship for hundreds of Detroit residents, maintenance and repairs of the General Douglas A. MacArthur Bridge and the James Scott Memorial Fountain.

The racing organizers and their partners also provide financing for programs like “Bringing the Outdoors to the Neighborhood,” Olson said.

Many who oppose the racing said repeatedly that  motorsport is simply inconsistent with a city park intended to provide a respite in a natural setting, and that any advantages it brings to the city and state could be realized, just as well, in another location.

The organizers praised the decision by the state.

“We are excited that the Detroit Grand Prix will continue at Belle Isle for the next several years and we want to thank the State of Michigan for working with us on this new agreement, as well as our partners with City of Detroit and the Belle Isle Conservancy,” said Bud Denker, chairman of the Grand Prix.

“This event means so much to Detroit, to Windsor and our entire community.

“We are proud to showcase the beauty of Belle Isle around the world every year and to make such a positive impact on the local economy,” Denker said.

“More importantly, we want to continue our goal of improving Belle Isle Park.”