Like a lot of individuals, I was hopeful nearly two years ago, when the city inked a five-year deal to bring an IndyCar race to Baltimore's Inner Harbor on an otherwise sleepy Labor Day weekend.
The promise of positive international media attention, coupled with an influx of revenue from visiting racing fans and curious tourists, sounded extremely appealing during a time when city government faced massive budget deficits.
I initially supported the Grand Prix because I thought it would be worthwhile and because from time to time cities need to explore fresh ideas to generate revenue and attract visitors. But to continue to pursue the race, which has incurred a large amount debt, is not the best option at a time when so many other important programs and services lack much-needed support.
Too many of our recreation centers, for example, are outdated and lack the necessary financial commitment to bring them into the 21st century. These facilities serve as community hubs that provide our youths with safe educational and athletic opportunities. I have been extremely disheartened by the administration's plan to hand over operation of some of these facilities to third-party, private groups without any guarantee that these centers will remain open well into the future.
During a recent press conference, the mayor noted that the city has seen a drastic reduction in juvenile homicides by nearly 50 percent and shootings by 70 percent over the past four years. And in the past two years, juvenile violence and the rate of juvenile arrests have continued to decline. Faced with such positive results, now is not the time to retreat from the city's obligation to provide safe havens in the form of public recreation for our youth. Further divestment in our public recreation facilities could have the unintended consequence of reversing the hard work that has contributed to a dip in youth violence.
I voted against putting recreation centers under the control of private groups because I firmly believe that providing recreation opportunities is an important function of city government and should not be farmed out to other organizations. Our recreation centers keep kids safe, healthy and off the streets, and it's our responsibility to protect the interests of our children and our communities. What does it say about our priorities as a city when we will move heaven and Earth to continue a street race but will turn our backs on our most vulnerable citizens?
The city charter grants the Department of Recreation and Parks the duty to "establish, maintain, operate and control recreational facilities and activities for the people of Baltimore City, and to have charge and control of all such property and activities." Giving up control of these centers takes away our power to protect and provide for Baltimore's youths.
A decade ago, Washington, D.C., found itself in a position similar to the one Baltimore currently faces. In 2002, officials there paid more than $5 million to produce the Cadillac Grand Prix of Washington. The event was originally scheduled for a multi-year run, but budget overruns and complaints from residents caused city leaders to quickly reassess the deal and led to the end of major motor sports racing in D.C.
Ultimately, city government needs to dedicate its attention to things like retaining and expanding recreation centers for our children and seniors, and to operating swimming pools during the summer for our youths on a full-time basis. We should focus more of our attention toward our neighborhoods and work to improve the everyday lives of our citizens.
City officials, including myself, supported the Baltimore Grand Prix because we believed the race would have a positive impact on our city. But the time has come for us to instead focus on core issues that impact the quality of life for all Baltimoreans.
Bernard C. "Jack" Young is president of the Baltimore City Council. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun