Detroit — The Belle Isle Advisory Committee Thursday adopted a resolution aimed at continuing the Detroit Grand Prix on the island, with some safeguards in place.
And both members of the committee and race chairman Bud Denker, executive vice-president of the Penske Corporation, said the long-term future of motor sports on the island is unclear.
The measure was adopted during a meeting at the Belle Isle Nature Center attended by 200 people, some of whom spoke for and against continuing to have the event on the island.
“It would be a serious setback to lose a significant funding source and the impact would be immediately felt,” said Michele Hodges, Belle Isle advisory committee chair and Belle Isle Conservancy president, who is championing public-private partnerships to restore the island.
“We need time to replace it,” she said. “Three years is reasonable to replace these dollars. “As Bud said, they don’t plan to be here forever.”
Denker said Team Penske and the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix Presented by Lear are seeking state permission for only three more years of racing, with two single-year options to extend, because they anticipate a time when Belle Isle becomes so improved that it will simply be time to leave.
“Belle Isle still needs a lot more help. We’re not going to stop giving,” Denker said. “We’re not going to be on this island forever. It’s not sustainable to have this event, forever.
“There’s a few things we want to fix on this island that still been to be fixed, and we plan to do that.”
Denker said the long-term future of motorsport on the island is tied directly to the success in rehabilitating the 982-acre park, which the state rents from the city.
“Everything can’t go on forever,” Denker said. “Sometime in the future, I don’t know when it’s going to be, we will have served our purpose here. We’ve done what we need to do.
“DNR (the state Department of Natural Resources) has said it also. But, we’re not there yet."
Ron Olson, state director of parks and recreation, will make the final decision. But the state’s evaluation that racing should be approved for another three years, with some tweaks to the organizers’ proposal, was discussed Wednesday.
Final approval is expected.
Olson did not say when the DNR would render its decision.
Critics said racing conflicts with Belle Isle's recreational use and the state's conservancy role in protecting the island.
“The public who uses the park should be the priority on how this public park operates,” said Moira Fracassa, a Detroit resident who frequently uses the park. “A major issue is clearly is the lengthy period of restricted access during peak park season."
“The stewardship of a public park that has been entrusted to you is being driven by a private interest, and that’s just not right.”
Another Detroit resident, John Carruthers, lives near Belle Isle and objected to barring automobile traffic on the island during race week, saying senior citizens can't use it.
“If these people aren’t allowed to come across that bridge then you shouldn’t be allowed to come across,” Carruthers said, pointing to race officials.
Olson displayed a three-inch thick binder of printed comments sent to the DNR since a public meeting last month when the proposal became public.
While Olson said, “it’s hardly a scientific survey,” 72.7 percent of the submissions favored continuing the motorsports, and 27.3 percent opposed it.
Many identified time involved setting up and dismantling the raceway on Belle Isle as a major issue, Olson said.
“The original agreement with the city provided for 84 days," Olson said. "It also provided for if there (were) extenuating circumstances, it could be longer.
“Well, what we’re talking about now is no more than 62 days, and we’re going to urge them to work hard and reduce that burden.”
The Rev. Lonnie Peek Jr., an advisory group member, suggested organizers look into ways of leveraging the race event with the recently moved auto show.
Olson said that while the state is interested, there is no interest in changing so the events coincide.
“What we wouldn’t want to have is that driving changes in the timing of the event,” he said.