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DNR signals support for keeping Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle

racers at the Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix from last year, 2017
Nic Redhead
Flickr - http://bit.ly/1xMszCg
A scene from the 2017 Detroit Grand Prix on Belle Isle.

It appears Belle Isle will continue to host the Detroit Grand Prix for at least another five years.

The Michigan Department of Natural Resources signaled its support for that Friday, as it released some suggested termsfor keeping the IndyCar race on the island.

The DNR manages Belle Isle as a state park. Its own analysis says the Grand Prix has minimal environmental impacts, brings in more money for the park, and provides other benefits.

DNR parks and recreation chief Ron Olson says there are good arguments and strong feelings both for and against having the race on the island, and that DNR has received “hundreds” of comments and emails from people with both perspectives.

“It’s a lot of balancing, a lot of considerations, and we took all that into account when we determined our position,” Olson said. “But we think that in the end, there’s a lot of good that can come from continuing the partnership and the Grand Prix.”

The race has been off and on at Belle Isle since the early 1990s. Opponents say it limits public access to portions of Belle Isle for too long, and isn’t in line with the aim of state parks or the DNR’s mission of conserving natural resources.

Sandra Novacek is with the group Belle Isle Concern. She says it appears the DNR more or less “rubber-stamped” the Grand Prix’s sponsors own proposal for extending the race contract.

“So my question would be, who is the DNR working for? Are they working for the citizens of Michigan, or are they working for the Grand Prix?” Novacek said.

Novacek says the DNR hasn’t done a third-party study of the race’s environmental impacts as requested, nor has it done a true cost-benefit analysis of turning part of the island into a race track.

The Detroit Grand Prix has been criticized for how long it takes to set up and tear down the event every year. In its proposal to the DNR, it suggested limiting that time to 62 days—a time frame the DNR deemed acceptable, though Olson says the agency will encourage them to “reduce it even further.” It also pledges to provide “full public access on the roadways and to features of the park” for 41 of those 62 days.

The DNR would require a $310,000 park use fee and an additional $100,000 for park improvements, some of which would include race-related upgrades. That’s a total of $25,000 more than Grand Prix organizers suggested in their proposal. The Grand Prix will also continue private fundraising efforts on the park’s behalf.

Olson says the DNR will make a final decision about extending the Grand Prix’s contract after a public meeting on Belle Isle Thursday.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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