Three years ago, I declared that the Grand Prix of Baltimore would be a game changer for our city. Now that the race has ended for the foreseeable future, many have asked if I regret that statement. The answer is no.
My goal in supporting the Grand Prix was to boost Baltimore's tourism industry over a traditionally slow Labor Day weekend and to present a positive image of our city to the world. For three years, the Grand Prix of Baltimore did exactly that.
Race On, the race's organizers, positioned the Grand Prix for long-term success, and it is bittersweet to see this event come to an end. The Grand Prix attracted national and international exposure — shining a positive spotlight on Baltimore and broadcasting images of our beautiful harbor and downtown business district to households across the globe.
As mayor, I was happiest when Baltimore residents told me how proud they were to see our city represented on the national and international stage. Relatives whose only impressions of Baltimore had come from shows like "The Wire" called them to say how great Baltimore looked as they watched the race on television. They were excited about visiting our city — and they still are.
The debate will continue about the race's impact on our city, and some will ask if Baltimore got enough benefit from hosting the Grand Prix. I believe that we did. Baltimore received a strong economic impact — to the tune of more than $130 million over three years — thanks to the Grand Prix.
The race also generated additional spending at our downtown hotels, shops and restaurants. Baltimore Race Week — the result of partnerships between Visit Baltimore, Race On and tourism partners throughout the city — offered exciting deals that drove commerce into surrounding neighborhoods and to nearby attractions concerned about the race's impact on their local businesses.
Oftentimes, I have found that the harshest critics of ambitions like the Grand Prix are the same people who question whether Baltimore can ever do anything big. I just don't think like that. Baltimore can't afford to think like that.
We did not let pessimism tell us nothing could be done to give our children 21st Century schools. We made the hard choices and secured historic levels of funding that will allow us to undertake $1.1 billion in repairs, renovation and new construction.
We did not let pessimism tell us nothing could be done about dilapidated buildings in our communities. Through our Vacants to Value program and more aggressive code enforcement, those buildings are being removed at a record pace, and in the process, we are rebuilding long neglected areas of Baltimore.
We have not let pessimism tell us our city can do nothing about its long-term structural deficit. We continue to focus on a 10-year plan for financial solvency that balances our budgets while protecting vital city services for current and future city residents.
And we will not let pessimism tell us that more cannot be done to fight crime in our communities and keep our families safe. More can be done, and working together, we will meet that challenge as well.
I do not believe in giving in to pessimism about our city when I see so clearly all of Baltimore's potential right in front of me. But in order to maximize that potential, we have to fight for it — whether that means working for better schools, cleaner communities and safer streets, or through other opportunities like the Grand Prix that generate positive exposure for our city.
Baltimore is now in a strong position to compete for future events and conventions, which will contribute to the growth of our economy and local tourism. The Grand Prix helped to solidify Baltimore as a sought-after destination — an accomplishment we all should take pride in.
Baltimore took a chance with the Grand Prix, and we won while it lasted. There will be many more opportunities ahead for Baltimore to make big choices about our future and test the limits of what was thought possible for our city.
I am humbled by the opportunity to serve as your mayor, and as long as I'm blessed to serve, I will always push to make sure our city is thinking big about both the challenges and the opportunities we face. We may not always agree on every issue, but let us never allow pessimism to cause us to question what is possible for our city.
Together, we can make the tough choices necessary to move every community in Baltimore forward.
Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, a Democrat, is Baltimore's mayor. Her email is email@example.com. Twitter: @MayorSRB.
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