The construction time of this year's Grand Prix of Baltimore course has been reduced by 10 days, softening the effects on city traffic and downtown businesses, officials for the Labor Day weekend event announced Tuesday.
General manager Tim Mayer said race organizers and city officials collaborated on a plan to close entire blocks at night and in the early morning, allowing workers to build the 12-turn, two-mile track from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. on most days. This approach, instead of closing single lanes during higher-traffic periods, will shorten construction from 31 days to 21.
"We didn't expect we'd be able to do that, but it was our goal to minimize the impact on the people of Baltimore," Mayer said Tuesday, when race officials held a ceremonial dropping of a jersey wall that will line the course. "We're sincere about that, partly because it's essential for the race to survive. It's self-preservation. We have to be good neighbors."
Building the course for the inaugural race in 2011 took 45 days, snarling traffic through downtown for much of the summer as roads were resurfaced and trees that would have blocked spectators' views were removed. Last year's build took 31 days, as Race On LLC, which stepped in to run the race after two other groups faltered, addressed issues encountered the first year.
Mayer, who lauded the city and state for helping devise the new construction plan, said he worked closely with NZR Consulting — which has overseen construction of the track the past two years — and the Baltimore Transportation Department. He expects traffic to move more freely through the city under the new plan, and said it would also be safer for workers.
Construction will also be halted on five nights — Aug. 8, 14, 15, 21 and 22 — to accommodate concerts or sporting events at Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium.
While Mayer, Race On vice president of sales and marketing Debbie Bell and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore have worked to appease businesses most affected by the construction and the race, some remain upset at the interruption.
Tony Assadi, who owns the Pratt Street restaurant Luna Del Sea, said he felt abandoned by city leaders who signed a contract with race organizers and then let them charge restaurants like his to have sightlines to the race. He said he paid Race On $5,000 this year and last year to have the fence in front of his establishment uncovered.
Mayer said that payment also bought the restaurant $2,000 worth of tickets to use as promotional items.
"I feel like it wasn't worth spending the money to fight it," Assadi said. "How can you fight it if the city backs it? They just don't care about those of us who are here, doing it 365 days a year."
A spokesman for Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake did not respond to a request for comment.
Mayer said he believes that a view of the race would help Assadi attract customers and that organizers should therefore share in the restaurant's profits for the weekend.
Other business owners remain hopeful that Race On's stewardship of the race will persuade more fans to attend the event. Mike Gillett, who owns the Jimmy John's sandwich shop on Pratt Street, said large crowds, curious about the new race, flocked downtown for all three days of the event in 2011. Last year, though, many area businesses closed Friday and the race events drew only small crowds, causing business to lag.
"I do think it's a good thing for the city," he said. "You have to compare it to Labor Day weekend in Baltimore without a race. Where would everybody be? The beach."
The 2014 Grand Prix won't be run on Labor Day weekend, per the original contract between the city and organizers. A football game between Navy and Ohio State was already scheduled for that weekend at M&T Bank Stadium. Mayer said the race would likely move to August but was not ready Tuesday to announce the date.
"We have to work with Major League Baseball and the NFL and make sure the [Baltimore] Convention Center is open," he said. "There were a lot of things to work through, but we knew this was coming and are pretty far down the line for finding the right date. We just have a few more things to figure out."
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