Volunteers, local business owners and protesters assembled at the Belle Isle Boat House as organizers of the Detroit Grand Prix formally submitted their proposal for a new contract to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The event’s current contract to race on the island has expired.
The new contract proposal includes a pledge by race organizers to increase their own fee they pay to hold the event on Belle Isle by 50 percent, bringing the annual cost $300,000. It also offers an additional $50,000 yearly for a project of the Michigan DNR’s choosing and $35,000 for non-racing events on the Grand Prix’s paved paddock area. That slab of concrete has been a bone of contention for some activists who say it destroys the natural beauty of the island.
The new contract proposal also includes a commitment to decrease the amount of time the event impacts the island. It states the time to build the temporary track on Belle Isle would average 8.33 days for every mile of barrier erected. That would make it one of the most efficient set-ups of any major temporary race track in North America.
This year the Grand Prix was on Belle Isle for 65 days, nine days less than in 2017. Grand Prix President Michael Montri says moving administrative staff into the casino on the island, rather than placing them in trailers around the facility, helped reduce the set-up time.
“You have to hook up power, you have to hook up telephone, you have to hook up internet to all those individual trailers,” he says. “We had over 25 individual trailers and put them in the casino. That simplifies the process a ton.”
But there is also opposition to keeping the races on the island. At a public hearing on the new contract many members of a group known as Belle Isle Concern voiced their unhappiness with the current site of the Grand Prix. One man from the group stood and turned his back on Belle Isle. The group’s coordinator, Sandra Novacek, says complaints about the Grand Prix disrupting Belle Isle has forced race organizers to respond.
“They have to do anything they can to make themselves look better,” she says. “But the biggest favor they could do for residents of the area would be to go to a different part of the city and find an area that is disadvantaged that needs help.”
The DNR is now reviewing the Grand Prix organizers’ proposal and will announce whether the contract will be renewed at a special public meeting on August 2nd. The location for that meeting is yet to be determined.