Baltimoreans ready for Grand Prix parties

Melisa Herbert plans to host a Baltimore Grans Prix party on Labor Day weekend atop the Greenhouse Apartments at Pratt and Greene streets, which overlook the racecourse. (Gene Sweeney Jr. / Sun Photographer / August 26, 2011)

The 26th-floor Terrace Club of 100 E. Pratt St. offers a bird's-eye view of the straights of the Baltimore Grand Prix racecourse. A menu, featuring assorted hot entrees, pastries, eggs, salads and mini sandwiches, has been planned. And 200 guests have been invited for breakfast and lunch parties on Saturday and Sunday.

Guests of St. John Properties' private party in the traveling exhibit section of the Baltimore Science Center will get an eye-popping vantage point of racecars as they dart past. Restaurants such as B&O American Brassiere, Morton's Steakhouse and Lebanese Taverna are featuring prix-fixed menus themed to the race.

“I think it is great that we are showcasing Baltimore,” said racecar enthusiast and Bel Air resident Joe Zuramski, president of IT company ReliaSource, who is planning the private terrace party on Pratt Street. “I don't think Baltimore gets a fair shake. It is a great place, with a lot of great people. It is a great thing to Baltimore.”

Zuramski is among thousands in Baltimore ready to make the most of the Grand Prix, planning dinners, parties and events tied to the race. At the same time, a number of residents living in or near downtown are heading elsewhere. Some plan to stay with friends and family in surrounding counties while others flee the state to avoid what they predict to be a chaotic mess.

The main gripe? Well, roads.

Courtney Berg plans to head to Boston. The 23-year-old Locust Point resident has already had enough of the race preparation. Resurfacing roads, setting up bleachers and erecting barriers have already driven her commute to Mount Washington up to an hour and 15 minutes.

“It's pretty crowded Sundays during Ravens games. I can't imagine what it's going to be like during the Grand Prix,” she said. “The only benefit is the tourists coming to hotels and restaurants. It's not worth it. Our roads cannot handle the gridlock traffic”

Federal Hill resident Sarah Kramm moved to Baltimore six months ago, and said she is just getting used to the traffic patterns. She's not even attempting to navigate through the street closures and detours associated with the Grand Prix. She's headed to New Orleans instead.

“I've looked at the map,” the 24-year-old said. “It is a mess for us who have to drive through the city to get to work. I'm excited about the tourists that it will bring to the city, but … I just want to get away from all of the commotion.”

Party planning

Living downtown isn't necessarily a barrier to appreciating the race. Melisa Herbert is welcoming the Grand Prix — and close to 50 guests — when she hosts a “kegs and eggs” party from her third-floor apartment and rooftop of the swanky Greenhouse Apartments on the 500 block of W. Pratt St.

“I wouldn't miss it,” the 28-year-old human resources manager said. “Come on, it's the Grand Prix. It's a good opportunity to see high-speed cars, drink beer and eat eggs. I think this is a great thing for Baltimore.”

Herbert has been inundated with emails and texts from friends checking on the status of her party. “They are all excited,” she said.

There won't be any themed parties for Ian Logsdon, who feels that city residents are being inconvenienced to accommodate outsiders.

When he first heard about the Grand Prix, the 24-year-old Mount Vernon resident started calling friends to join him in plans outside the city.

“I said: ‘Oh God, this is the worst possible weekend,' ” recalled Logsdon, who will stay at his parents' Columbia home. “I immediately called people to see if they had any plans that weekend.”

Logsdon, a product delivery worker at Laureate Education, said that the race doesn't appear to be geared toward city residents — especially those who have been most disrupted by the preparations leading up to the event.

“They never seem to focus on people who live in downtown Baltimore,” he said in reference to city officials. “They are taking our public place and turning it into a private event.”

Outcry or not, city officials are gung-ho about the event's benefits.

“It's about taking the slowest weekend of the year in Baltimore, and hosting an event of more than 100,000 people over the weekend,” said City Councilman William H. Cole IV, an early supporter of the race, which will run through his district. “It's about attracting money into the economy. We'll be able to track direct tax revenue. This is an event that will be showcased on at least four TV stations. We're looking at eight to 10 hours. You can't put a dollar figure on that.”

City officials project more than $2 million in direct taxes — hotel, parking, admission and amusement—that will go directly into the city's general fund because of the Grand Prix. “That doesn't account for economic impact on small business, hotels, restaurants,” Cole added.

City support

As for the claim that Baltimoreans are not supporting the race, Cole said that data prove otherwise.

“We've sold several thousand tickets to the 21230 area code [South Baltimore],” he said. “There is no one-size-fits-all event that everyone wants to go to... I can understand the sentiment that not everyone wants to be a part of it, but we have to do things that will improve the image of our city and help it grow.”

Zuramski, whose company is hosting a series of benefit parties for the Wounded Warrior Project, hopes that residents realize how “good the race will be for Baltimore.” He warned: “D.C. had the American Le Mans Series race and because of public opposition, they only had it one year. This is potentially $100 million for Baltimore.”

Kramm — the Baltimorean with a New Orleans evacuation plan — admitted a number of her friends in Federal Hill are looking forward to the races.

“The race is going to be in our backyard,” Kramm said. “In that sense we'll be very excited. But everything leading up to it and the aftermath — I am not excited about that.”

Berg hopes the Grand Prix will result in overall success for the city, but she also can't wait for the event to be done.

“I hope,” she said, “that I can finally have my 15-minute commute back.”

john-john.williams@baltsun.com