Detroit council approves Grand Prix's 2023 move from Belle Isle to downtown

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Detroit — The City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved a contract with organizers of the Detroit Grand Prix to move the race from Belle Isle to city streets downtown. 

The resolution comes about six weeks after officials with Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix Inc. told the panel that they want to move the event off the island park and into the city's downtown.

Team 3GT Racing takes a corner during the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship practice session. at the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear in Detroit on June 2, 2017.

Under the Grand Prix's proposal, the race will be held on Detroit streets from 2023 through 2025. Next year, the June 3-5 race will still be held on Belle Isle.

Organizers of the event said they want to have the 2023 race's track run on Jefferson and Atwater, essentially between Rivard and Bates, and have it run past the monument to Joe Louis. The track will be 1.7 miles, shorter than Belle Isle’s 2.3-mile circuit.

The racetrack will include dual pit lane and a U-turn at the Joe Louis fist in the heart of downtown.

Site plan for the Grand Prix hosted downtown in 2023.

The move means spectators could watch more than 50% of the race for free instead of having to pay to get into the island park, said Bud Denker, Grand Prix chairman and president of Penske Corporation.

So far, the idea seems to be getting a warm reception. Last month, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones hosted a meeting to discuss the concept with Denker. 

The race was initially held downtown from 1982-91 before moving to Belle Isle.

The Grand Prix races have attracted 95,000 fans to the summer celebration at least seven times and have a television audience of over 1 million viewers, according to the resolution.

The council members did not have any input before or after voting; however, Irvin Corley Jr., the city's executive policy manager, pointed out to the council that they were waiting for an updated economic benefits study from the University of Michigan on the impact of the race relocation. 

Corley said UM's initial report indicated there would be a 20% increase in economic benefit moving the race to downtown.

"When you look at the economic benefits generated in 2017, about a $64 million impact, with a 20% bump, they're projecting a $77 million impact to the city of Detroit and specifically, Detroit businesses in downtown could receive about $10 million in spending," Corley said. "Based on that, it looks like a relocation to the downtown area could have a more beneficial impact for the city."

The contract states the city will temporarily close all city streets, alleys and sidewalks needed for the event and provide all permits and licenses needed for the event.

The permit allows for racing to take place on highways or streets. The Department of Public Works has determined that the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix Inc. has adequate insurance to pay any loss or damages, provide adequate security and facilities during the event, according to the council resolution.

Detroit Grand Prix officials thanked Mayor Mike Duggan, the City Council and several business leaders in a Wednesday statement after the vote. They said over the last five weeks representatives of the race have participated in listening sessions with residents and business leaders on the idea of returning the race downtown.

“The positive reaction and the excitement that we have seen from the community about the Grand Prix coming back downtown reinforces our belief that this relocation will provide a significant benefit to the city, its residents and our local businesses for the future,” according to the statement. 

Denker joined a virtual press conference Wednesday afternoon with Hakim Berry, Detroit's chief operating officer, and Ron Brundidge, director of the Department of Public Works, following the council's vote saying he's excited for the impact it'll have for the city and state. 

Detroit's COO Hakim Berry says he remembers attending the race as a teenager.

"There was so much positivity surrounding this. There are 260 businesses this is going to benefit," Denker said. "Most cities would be jealous to have this event in their downtown, and we’re going to have that in 2023.

"What I'm most excited about is that communities are going to come together for this," he added. "We're going to have the largest event since Super Bowl 2006 just a year and a half away."

Brundidge said assessments will soon be conducted by the city to determine what road improvements will be needed ahead of the 2023 race. Jefferson Avenue, he added, will be open to traffic during the event.

Building out the event will take nearly 60 days, but it will not impact roadways as race employees will work from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., he said. 

The Lodge tunnel will close on the Thursday night before the event and reopen before Monday morning traffic, Denker said.

City Council President Jones said during the news conference that residents have called for years for the race to be moved off the island.

"We are looking forward to Detroit Chevrolet Grand Prix coming to the streets of Detroit," Jones said. "It is going to be very much different than it was before when many businesses felt they were impacted. I've spoken to businesses who are excited."

DPW will be responsible for the costs of any road improvements, but a dollar amount wasn't provided by Brundidge, who noted costs vary from year to year.

"Imagine driving westbound on Jefferson Avenue with a safety wall and the race happening just to the left of you," Brundidge said. "It's going to be an amazing picture."

Twitter: @SarahRahal_