Officials: Grand Prix boosted hotel, parking revenue

The inaugural Baltimore Grand Prix gave the local economy much of the boost officials hoped for — though organizers say they will seek to spread the benefits to more businesses next year.

The street race helped pump up weekend revenues at a sampling of hotels by 44 percent compared with Labor Day weekend last year, according to preliminary counts. It also drove average room rates for those hotels up 55 percent and more than doubled the take at city-owned parking garages.


The figures, compiled by the research firm Forward Analytics, were released Thursday by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore Racing Development, the private group that produced the three-day event.

The mayor, who championed the Grand Prix, said the event exceeded her expectations. More than 100,000 tickets were sold, data from Ticketfly showed.


"I saw the event as an opportunity for my city, the city I love, to shine," Rawlings-Blake said Thursday at a news conference, surrounded by race and business officials. "I was on a high all weekend, knowing that people all over the world could see the city. This was about giving Baltimore an opportunity to shine."

Forward Analytics and the city tourism bureau, Visit Baltimore, expect to release a comprehensive analysis of the race's economic impact next month.

In pitching the event, Baltimore Racing Development projected an economic impact — including hotel room bookings and food, entertainment and shopping revenues — of some $70 million.

Tom Noonan, president and chief executive of Visit Baltimore, said he believed that some hotels met their goals. "People were very, very happy" with the race's outcome — as were the hotels, which could charge higher rates than usual.

The jump in revenue at the 11 hotels surveyed, all but one of which are downtown, will likely be mirrored in the larger sample to be considered in the final report, Noonan said. That analysis will incorporate Smith Travel Research numbers on rates, revenue and occupancy for all downtown hotels.

Some hotels reported that they were able to sell out rooms on a weekend that otherwise would see their facilities just half full.

At the Inner Harbor Marriott at Camden Yards, the race "exceeded our expectations," said Onahlea Shimunek, the general manager. "Three weeks out, we were sold out for Saturday," she said.

The hotel also sold more food and beverages than expected, she said.

The city-owned Hilton Baltimore Convention Center Hotel also reported strong results, according to a city official. Compared to the four-day Labor Day weekend in 2010, the hotel booked 473 more room nights, a 29 percent jump. It also raised its average rate by about $100 a night, a 73 percent increase, and saw a bump in revenue of $276,000, a 124 percent rise. Its food and drink sales from Sept. 2 to 5 totaled more than $155,500, two and a half times the previous year's Labor Day take.

For area restaurants, Grand Prix business was hit or miss, officials acknowledged Thursday.

Noonan said business boomed for some restaurants, including Kona Grill, Regi's American Bistro, Morton's The Steak House and Capital Grille. But he said officials and businesses could do a better job of promoting sections of the city beyond the racecourse area.

Bill Irwin, an operator of Slainte and Kooper's in Fells Point, and an early and ardent supporter of the Grand Prix, said in an interview that business ended up being flat. He said potential customers were scared away by reports of traffic snarls.


Tony Foreman said his Harbor East restaurants did business ranging from flat to decent. "We have a terrific crowd of interesting visitors to entertain, which was great fun," Foreman said in an interview. "Unfortunately we were missing many of our regular loyal local clients who said they were intimidated about the traffic message in the local media."

Michelle Torres, a spokesperson for Phillips Harborplace, echoed the feelings of many restaurant owners, even the disappointed ones. "It was a learning experience," Torres said in an interview. "We'll all do better next year."

Baltimore Racing Development said Thursday that it paid local contractors more than $3 million to help stage the event.

Figures released by NBC earlier in the week showed the Grand Prix averaged 591,000 viewers on Sunday, short of promoters' claims that it was the most-watched IndyCar race in the history of the cable channel Versus.

A July race in Edmonton, in Alberta, Canada, was watched by 642,000 viewers. Baltimore officials in May 2010 estimated a television audience of 3.5 million for the Grand Prix.

But Rawlings-Blake said the television coverage succeeded in giving people worldwide a glimpse of what Baltimore has to offer — which, she said, could pay off in increased tourism.

Sun reporters David Zurawik and Richard Gorelick contributed to this article.

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