Public Clashes over Future of Detroit Grand Prix

The contract for the auto race expires next year. Will state officials continue it?

DETROIT (AP) — State officials are deciding whether to continue hosting the Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle, a state park and island that opponents say is negatively impacted by the annual event.

Sandra Svoboda/WDET

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is considering whether to allow the race to continue after its current five-year contract expires after the 2018 race. The department held a public meeting Wednesday at the Belle Isle Nature Center to gather feedback. Dozens of residents attended.

Opponents voiced concerns about the race’s environmental impact. Several conservation groups have requested a third-party environmental impact study on how the race affects island habitat.

“We’ve already determined that people who use the park do not want this race in the park. Something is wrong here,” said Michael Betzold, a member of grass-roots group Belle Isle Concern. “The Grand Prix is a great event, but it does not belong on Belle Isle, not any more than an indoor soccer match belongs in the DIA’s (Detroit Institute of Arts’) Rivera Court. Take this race somewhere else.”

But supporters said the race shines a spotlight on Detroit and stimulates the economy.

Here’s what WDET reported race team owner Roger Penske said earlier this year:

“I think you just look at Belle Isle and see the difference from when we came here a number of years ago, and to see the interest. Our ticket sales are in good shape. Our corporate sales are off the charts so the support from thee city has just been outstanding,” Penske says. “I think people believe in us.” 

Click here to listen to Penske’s comments.

Organizers have said the three-day event accounts for $45 million to $50 million in economic development each year.

“No other race in the country has that kind of national and international coverage,” said Ed Weglarz, a volunteer manager with the Grand Prix. “By moving it somewhere else, you are going to lose that big advantage. This is a bad time to get off the bandwagon.”

The natural resources department and Grand Prix officials said they will review the feedback and will hold another public input forum if they decide to draft a proposed agreement.

The Grand Prix has occurred on Belle Isle periodically since 1992 and annually since 2012.

Here is the DNR’s webpage about the public comment period.