Grand Prix is a Boost for Business, but a Pain in the Butt for Baltimoreans

Is the economic boost really worth the HEADACHE for people living in the city?

Crazed drivers high on adrenaline will be speeding through the Baltimore city streets at ridiculous speeds, drafting around sharp turns and probably resulting in several head-on collisions with the wall and other drivers. So what makes this scene different from any other day in Baltimore City? This time it’s sanctioned. It’s Baltimore’s Grand Prix, baby!

In case you haven’t noticed the precariously placed sets of bleachers that have magically erected in the harbor over the last few weeks, and inconvenient road closures that you’ve been swearing at for weeks now, something exciting is coming to town. Exciting, that is, unless you have to navigate anywhere in a hurry this weekend. Even getting to work this morning was a frustrating experience.

The Baltimore Business Journal has already reported about the traffic nightmares today, including Lombard St. traffic halting to a stop during this morning’s rush hour, and creating some cranky commuters. One woman complained about sitting in traffic one block from her office for an hour. That’s enough to drive any rational person way over the edge.

Local businesses suffered from this morning’s congestion too, and are not looking forward to all of this weekend’s hub-bub. A parking garage operator they interviewed near the traffic jams said that just 40 cars came in today – not good compared to the 200 cars he usually gets on a given day. If the trend continues, road clousures and traffic delays could cost him $10,000 over the whole weekend.

I’m sorry to say that good news isn’t in our future. Road closures throughout the city will continue all weekend, according to the Dept. of Transportation. Their advice to us? Take the metro or light rail. Fantastic!

So is it all a messy, frustrating waste? What about all the money we’re supposed to see?

But Baltimore’s name and bottom line will get a boost this weekend.

Baltimore’s tourism industry doesn’t normally look to the long Labor Day weekend with anticipation. The city’s tourism agency, Visit Baltimore, admits that hotel occupancy has been “mediocre at best” over the last few years.

The hopes are that Charm City’s first takeover by the IZOD IndyCar Series will bring a small boost to the city’s tourism sales. The Grand Prix should attract nearly 100,000 visitors to the narrow city streets this weekend, say race organizers and city officials. They say it could generate up to $70 million in economic activity (i.e. hotel rooms, transportation, food and drink), and the city should gain $2.2 million in tax revenues.

We should also consider the marketing recognition and outreach benefits for our little city. This means big time broadcasts to national and international audiences. Baltimore is now considered a Grand Prix destination (although that won’t stop me from wondering why the heck anyone would go out of their way to visit Baltimore every time I see a crowd of funny looking tourists grasping the cameras around their necks).

Let’s run the numbers – $4.6 million is the estimated value of media exposure to the city for the San Jose Grand Prix – and Baltimore’s audience is expected to be even larger.

That’s great for Baltimore, but it still leaves me sitting in an idling car while I slowly pull out my own hair and dream of owning a flying car. So take advice from the transportation department and, “pack your patience.” Or as my dad always used to say, you can pound sand. At least it’s just one more weekend of this! Unless, of course, the Grand Prix grows into an annual event. Oh dear lord.

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