Grand Prix organizers say they are prepared to lose money, but will pay their bills

The new organizers of the Baltimore Grand Prix said Tuesday they are prepared to lose money on the Labor Day weekend event, but pledged that no vendor or taxpayer would go unpaid.

"My goal for this year is to stabilize the race," said J.P. Grant, the Columbia-based financier heading Race On LLC, which has a five-year contract to put on the city's IndyCar race. "If there's a hit, we take a hit."

The city terminated its contract with the group that put on last year's inaugural race, Baltimore Racing Development, after it failed to pay millions of dollars to vendors, the city and the state. Asked if it were possible that his group would fail to pay such debts, Grant replied there was "zero" chance of that happening.

Grant said he hopes the group will turn a profit running a second race in 2013, but realizes that's unlikely this year. "This is the first year of running a new business," Grant said.

In a meeting with editors of The Baltimore Sun, Grant and the race's new general manager, Timothy A. Mayer of Andretti Sports Marketing, said the group plans to launch a marketing campaign on July 15.

Last year's race drew 160,000 spectators to the Inner Harbor, and organizers sold 110,000 tickets — numbers Grant says he'd be glad to hit.

"If we hit the attendance numbers we hit last year, that's a grand slam. If we're sort of close, that's fine," Grant he said. He said he was willing to underwrite early losses.

Tickets went on sale in late May, though the men declined to say how many have been sold thus far. "We are where we need to be," Mayer said. "We are comfortable with where we are now."

Race On is headed by two local businessmen: Grant, who is CEO of Grant Capital Management and a supporter of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and construction contractor Greg O'Neill. Their company has hired racing champion Michael Andretti's sports marketing group to organize the event.

Race On is the third group to try to run Baltimore's Grand Prix. After city officials canceled the contract with Baltimore Racing Development, they handed control of the event to Downforce Racing in February. But that group dissolved without making progress.

Neither of the groups was able to secure a title sponsor, which can bring in more than $1 million for a major event.

Mayer said the prospects also did not look good for securing a title sponsor for this year's event, but the group was prepared to put on the race without one.

"The answer is an honest no. It's unlikely," Mayer said of getting a title sponsor, saying the group took over the race too late in many companies' fiscal year to secure such an investment for this year.

Grant and Mayer said they did not plan to make the race's financial books public, though they said they would provide reports to the city.

"Our internal budgeting is internal to us," Mayer said.

As Race On makes preparations for the event, the Maryland Stadium Authority on Tuesday approved two deals with the group: one for rental of warehouse space at Camden Yards and another for parking lots for the event.

The authority agreed to rent 2,400 square feet of office space inside the Camden Yards warehouse — where BRD was also located — at $16 per square foot until year's end, according to Michael J. Frenz, executive director of the stadium authority.

The stadium authority also tentatively agreed to rent its parking lot outside Camden Yards to the racing group for $108,000 for the Labor Day weekend. The authority will ask race organizers to have that amount paid 30 days before the race, Frenz said.

The authority will charge Race On $115,000 for expenses its staff incurs moving equipment and doing other tasks due to the race.

In the interview with The Sun, Grant and Mayer said Race On has agreed to cover half the cost of replacing trees cut down for last year's event and promised not to cut down any this year.

In recent years, Grant has quietly risen to become a major player in city contracting.

He's financed more than $140 million city contracts in the past 12 years, donated tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic candidates and become a member of Rawlings-Blake's inner circle. He's also become known for his charitable donations.

In 2008, then-Council President Rawlings-Blake announced Grant had given a $8,400 donation to fund scholarships for city students. Two years later, Mayor Rawlings-Blake credited Grant with a $90,000 donation to keep swimming pools open in the summer. He has also funded a Little League team for the past three years.

He pointed to those charitable contributions and likened them to his efforts with the Grand Prix.

"Baltimore needs to have events like this. People need to get used to coming downtown," Grant said. "If you look at my history here in Baltimore, I do things just because I think it's the right thing to do."

Baltimore Sun reporter Julie Scharper contributed to this article.

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