Will the Grand Prix clean up Baltimore?

The mayor says the Grand Prix is 'game changing' for Baltimore. Sure, it'll bring in some tourism and related revenues, but what will it cost?

Marcelo Del Pozo/Reuters
Riders take a curve at the start of the race of the Spanish Grand Prix in Jerez, southern Spain, as seen in this photo taken May 2. Grand Prix racing is coming to Baltimore, bringing with it tourism for the Charm City – and costs.

It is a new day in Baltimore. To paraphrase the mayor, getting grand prix racing in Baltimore is a game changing event!

No longer will the city be in the top 5 in murders each year. Gone are the days of leading the nation in STDs. Say goodbye to the “no snitches” culture. All of that is a thing of the past because this is an “event that will bring a flood of money and visitors, while putting Baltimore on a worldwide stage.”

Over the five years that the city contract for the race will run, over $250 million will come to town “through ticket sales, hotel stays and restaurant business” producing in addition “$11 million in direct tax revenue.”

What will all this cost? “The city is dedicating $5 million in federal road maintenance funds to the racing project and is requesting a $2.75 million state loan for related improvements.” In other words, $7.75 million that could go to general improvements in city streets will go to make a small stretch of roads capable of handling grand prix race cars moving at 200 miles per hour 3 days a year. How anyone can drive through Baltimore and think that is a wise use of taxpayer money boggles the mind.

It is interesting also that the proponents have gotten community support for what will surely be an enormous inconvenience over those three days. I say this because a few years ago the Susan G. Komen Foundation held its annual Race for the Cure in essentially the same neighborhood. For about three or four hours one weekend morning, streets would be cordoned off so breast cancer survivors and their loved ones could run or walk through the streets to raise hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollar to support cancer research. THAT was such an inconvenience that the race had to be moved to the suburbs. But race cars roaring past row houses and restaurants, apartment buildings and art galleries, is ok.

My guess is that between regular citizens of Baltimore either hunkering down to avoid the race fans and the traffic problems associated with blocked off streets or skedaddling out of town to get away that neither those $250 million in ticket sales, restaurant meals and hotel stays nor those $11 million in direct tax revenues will materialize, that the great press about Baltimore and its charms will have little lasting impact on the perception of the city, but the waste of millions of tax payer dollars on this stupid idea will short change important and high value public works projects for years to come.

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