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

By Gregg Krupa
The Detroit News
Ryan Hunter-Reay makes a turn during the Friday practice day during the 2018 Detroit Grand Prix.

Detroit – The Michigan Department of Natural Resources said Friday it would permit the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, “provided key agreement areas are resolved to the department’s satisfaction.”

After reviewing a proposal to keep the IndyCar Series, IMSA Sportscars and other automobile racing on Belle Isle for three years, beginning in 2019, with two options each for an additional year, the DNR said it would approve a 62-day staging period.

But, the department wants the organizers, Team Penske and the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear, to allow “full public access on the roadways and to features of the park,” for 41 days.

DNR also said it will seek an increase in the proposed permit fee and financial contributions, and a restriction on helicopter traffic.

“We believe there are many far-reaching benefits in working toward a plan where Belle Isle Park continues as the site of the Detroit Grand Prix,” said Ron Olson, chief of the Parks and Recreation Division of DNR, which is charged with permitting events in state parks.

“We feel confident that we can arrive at a plan that honors the history, excitement and impact of this iconic race, while also safeguarding and enhancing the green spaces and experiences that people have come to expect from a day at Belle Isle.”

The organizers two weeks ago proposed to raise the 2018 permit fee of $150,000 to $300,000.

But DNR is seeking seeks $310,000.

The state also requests change in the proposed financial contributions.

At the July meeting of the Belle Isle Advisory Committee, Michael Montri, president of the Detroit Grand Prix and a vice-president of the Penske Auto Group, announced proposed contributions to the park of $50,000, for needs to be determined by the state, and $35,000, for projects of the large concrete area north of the Belle Isle Casino.

The concrete, installed by the organizers, provides a staging area for the infield activities of the Raceway on Belle Isle, including the pits.

Critics say they despise it, because it conflicts with using the island as a respite in nature.

The DNR recommends changing the contributions to the park to $100,000, for priorities to be determined by the department.

Environmentalists, birding organizations and some members of the public criticize the impact on wildlife and the natural of multiple races, qualifying and practices in four different series of motorsports on the island.

Some critics have suggested either no more racing, or a limited time during which an alternative venue would be sought.

Some have asked for a removal of the concrete staging area.

But the DNR said it has determined the racing has little impact on the environment.

“Environmental assessments conducted by DNR staff show that the Detroit Grand Prix’s presence on Belle Isle Park has little to no long-term impact on area wildlife and natural areas,” the department said, in a statement issued Friday.

“Event setup starts after bird and waterfowl migration occurs, and most animals and birds were found to be living in the flatwoods area on the park’s east end, opposite of the race location.”

The state is asking for a restriction on helicopter flights to the west end of the 982-acre island. Helicopters are used for TV coverage of the race.

In response to the judgments and assertions of DNR, organizers of the Detroit Grand Prix also issued a statement:

“The Grand Prix team will review the feedback and the suggested adjustments to the proposal internally over the next few days and determine our next steps in the process.

“We remain committed to bringing the Grand Prix back to Belle Isle in 2019 and beyond."

Both the state and organizers made clear the review process is continuing.

A special meeting of the Belle Isle Advisory Committee is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday at the Belle Isle Nature Center.

At that time, members of the advisory committee and the public can comment on the proposal and the DNR response.

The proposal is available online at

Available under the “Public feedback” section is a click-on for emailing public comments to:

Olson said the review process has been long.

“The public process did commence last September at the listening session, and we have received literally hundreds of comments, even since the July meeting of the advisory board,” he said.

“We’ve received almost 300.

“It’s a very strong blend of pros and cons, and people are very passionate about their response, at both ends of the spectrum

“So, I want to make sure that people know this isn’t a lopsided thing.”