Board of Estimates approves Grand Prix deal in 3-2 vote

A contract to run a second year of the Baltimore Grand Prix under new management passed a divided Board of Estimates on Wednesday by a 3-2 vote.

City Council PresidentBernard C. "Jack" Youngand Comptroller Joan M. Pratt opposed the deal. MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blakeand her two appointees on the board voted in favor.

Pratt argued that she hadn't been provided enough time to review the contract and that race officials hadn't properly answered her questions.

"Given the past experience of this event and looking forward, I am more in tune that this event be successful for the city and that the citizens not be burdened with additional expenses. Therefore, I am opposed to this item," Pratt said.

Young, who did not publicly criticize the race Wednesday, has said the city should focus on more important issues, such as improving recreation centers.

The 2011 Grand Prix drew 160,000 fans to Baltimore over Labor Day weekend and was hailed by many as a race-day success. But the organizer, Baltimore Racing Development, accumulated at least $12 million in debt, including more than $1.5 million in city taxes and fees.

The city canceled its contract with Baltimore Racing Development in December. Downforce Racing was announced last week as the administration's choice to be the new race organizer.

Pratt's real estate officer, Walter Horton, questioned Grand Prix supporters at length about the contract Wednesday, suggesting changes and additions. He asked why the agreement wasn't structured as a lease and said the organizers should be required to visit city schools to discuss automotive careers. The last-minute wrangling caused Rawlings-Blake to bristle.

"I'm sure that there aren't commitments that you're looking for on the spot," the mayor said.

Under the terms of the five-year contract, Downforce Racing, which is composed of Dale Dillon, an Indianapolis building contractor, and two former Constellation Energy Group executives, Felix J. Dawson and Daniel C. Reck, must present monthly financial reports to the city.

Several community leaders testified in favor of the race but asked for increased community impact funds for nearby neighborhoods. Last year, Baltimore Racing Development provided $100,000 in community impact funds. This year's contact calls for about half that figure.

Representatives from the Grand Prix's two biggest racing organizations, IndyCar and the American Le Mans Series, testified in favor of the contract.

"Without question, it was a highlight of our 2011 season," Sarah Davis, IndyCar's senior director of business affairs, said of the inaugural race. "We have the utmost confidence in Downforce Racing."

But Maryland Minority Contractors Association President Arnold M. Jolivet said black investors were not solicited to bid on the race. "We are never asked to step up to the table and be a part of these kind of deals," he said.

Downforce Racing was one of four groups that submitted proposals to run the race. There was no formal bidding process. One of the groups passed over alleged in an email to The Baltimore Sun that the city favored Dillon's team from the start and never seriously considered the others.

Despite the complaints, Rawlings-Blake said the city will be better off financially for going ahead with the race.

"I am very pleased we were able to move forward putting into place significant safeguards to protect the taxpayer," she said. "And I'm convinced — God willing, because we certainly can't control the weather — that we'll have another wonderful event. Not to just showcase the city but to enjoy the revenue that it generates."

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