Tuesday, May 29, 2018

5 Reasons to move the Detroit Grand Prix

Helio Castroneves races in Detroit
Photo by Nic Redhead/Flickr
The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix will return to Belle Isle this weekend. This year, like every year, there have been protests from those who want to the island park to be a more tranquil refuge.

While I love the Grand Prix and all that it contributes to Detroit, I believe that the best of course of action is to build a permanent, municipally owned facility for auto racing within the city of Detroit. The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix should, of course, remain on Belle Isle while a new facility is being designed and constructed. However, there should be no doubt that it is time for the race to move.

I have five reasons for why I believe this should be done.

Reason 1: Money
Red Bull Rallycross on Belle Isle
Photo by Frank Nemecek
The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix brings an impressive amount of money into Detroit. However, I believe that we are getting a tiny fraction of its potential from a permanent racing facility.

We have the Grand Prix for three days each summer. However, Detroit is no longer a stop on the Red Bull Global Rallycross series, at least in part due to the challenges of having another temporary racetrack on Belle Isle during the summer months.

In addition, Detroit is not a stop on the MotoAmerica racing circuit for motorcycles nor do we have any snowmobile racing events here in the winter.

It's almost impossible to have temporary facilities for all of these races. By opting to only have a temporary racing facility on Belle Isle, we are missing out on the potential revenue from having multiples races on several different weekends throughout the year in a permanent facility.

Reason 2: More Money
Weddings are currently a $72 billion dollar industry in the United States, according to industry data. Belle Isle is already a somewhat popular destination for weddings. The Anna Scripps Whitcomb Conservatory, the Belle Isle Casino, and the Detroit Yacht Club are all popular wedding venues. The Detroit Boat Club has also hosted weddings in recent years and, with more renovations, has the potential for even more.

Wedding Cake - Photo by Cleiton Isoton
Moreover, May and June are two of the busiest months for weddings. This is important because the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix keeps much of Belle Isle tied up for most of May and June. Sometimes, the teardown for it even stretches into early July.

May, June, and July, by the way, are peak wedding season.

I, therefore, have to ask the question: why in the world would anyone in their right mind want to keep a popular wedding destination tied up during the busiest time for weddings?

This is like owning a toy store and closing it in November and December when everyone is looking for Christmas presents for their kids.

This is like owning a costume shop and closing it in October when everyone is looking for Halloween costumes.

This is like owning a bar and closing it down when Charlie Sheen comes to town.

Okay - that last one might actually be a good idea. Charlie Sheen does have a reputation for getting a little too wild when he drinks.

Anyway, the point here is that weddings are a $72 billion industry, Belle Isle is a popular wedding destination, and we're closing it during peak wedding season. All of that money, therefore, has to be spent elsewhere and it's usually not within the Detroit city limits.

And forcing people to spend lots of money outside of Detroit is simply not a good idea.

Reason 3 - Still More Money
Music festival - Photo from Pixabay
When a permanent racing facility isn't hosting a race, it is routinely used to host music festivals and other events - all of which generate more money for the local economy. The Daytona International Speedway hosts the Country 500 Music Festival on Memorial Day weekend. The Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Michigan hosts the Faster Horses Country Music Festival in July. The Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California hosts the HARD Summer Music Festival in August.

The list goes on and on. Hosting a music festival at a speedway is an established business model that event producers have down to a science. All of these events pump large amounts of cash into the local economy, with attendees traveling from out of state or even from outside of the country to attend.

As a related sidenote, now that the WYCD Hoedown has abandoned its traditional location in downtown Detroit for the DTE Music Theatre in Clarkston, I would love to see something like a speedway lure them back.

Regardless, the point stands: a speedway is a well-established location for a music festival. Detroit is missing out on yet another driver for our local economy.

Reason 4 - Did I mention money?
Beach volleyball - Photo from Pixabay
By keeping Belle Isle tied up with the Chevrolet Grand Prix for so much of the year, not only are we as a community missing out not only a significant slice of the wedding industry, we are also missing out on the opportunity to have other, smaller events on the island during that time period as well. Purely from a logistical and operational standpoint, it's extremely difficult to have other events on the island when half of it is taken up for the race.

We are missing out on a chance to have beach volleyball tournaments on the Belle Isle Beach. Even smaller tournaments will bring in a few thousand dollars. Larger ones, like any of the AVP Beach Volleyball Tournaments, have an economic impact that rivals the grand prix.

We are missing out on a chance to re-open the Remick Band Shell and have a series of smaller concerts there.

We are missing out on fishing contests at the island's South Fishing Pier and elsewhere.

We are simply missing out on so many other events that could happen on Belle Isle during those months.

Reason 5 - Detroit's Image
I mentioned above that moving the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix to a municipally-owned speedway would allow for more than just one race per year. This, I believe, is important for Detroit's image.

Detroit is a city that is synonymous with the automobile. We aren't called the Motor City for nothing. And one of the best ways to show off cars is by racing them.

Auto racing - Photo from Pixabay
In spite of this connections between cars and racing, the city built on cars only has one auto race per year. Meanwhile, Atlanta, Georgia; Kansas City, Kansas; and St. Louis, Missouri all have multiple professional auto races every year. Besides not having an obvious connection to the automobile industry, each of those four cities also has a smaller population than Detroit, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

I don't mean any disrespect to any of these communities. I'm just going to say that if you went to any place in the world and asked random people what was that they associate with Kansas City, Kansas, there aren't very many people who would say "cars."

In spite of that, Kansas City, Kansas (population 151,709) can put together three professional auto races every year in comparison to Detroit, with its population of 672,795 car-loving people, which can only pull off a measly one race per year.

This is embarrassing.

Embarrassing.

This is why, I believe, Detroit needs to build a municipally-owned speedway.



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