The Associated Press November 4, 2011, 11:00AM ET

AP Exclusive: Grand Prix short of projections

An economic study being released Friday said the Baltimore Grand Prix fell far short of promoters' projections, but still calls it a "win" for the city.

The Labor Day weekend event drew 160,000 spectators and generated $27.6 million from spending by out-of-town spectators, vendors and race organizers. The total economic impact taking in other factors was nearly $47 million, according to the study by Pittsburgh-based Forward Analytics.

That does not include spending by locals or inside the 2-mile track that looped though downtown. Last year, Baltimore Racing Development estimated that the event would draw $70 million to the economy of the city and state and a $119 million in indirect costs.

"This was a good showing for this event," said Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, the city's convention and tourism bureau. "But I think we could have done a little better."

Early on, some downtown hotels required spectators to lock in to three-night stays and may have been charging too much, sending some customers to hotels farther out, Noonan said. Hotels near the airport saw a more significant increase in occupancy rates and revenues. But revenues increased more than 40 percent at hotels both in the city and outside, he said.

"We had some real success especially those restaurants that were near or on the track," he said. "Part of it had to do with how they marketed themselves."

Ideally, businesses will be able to apply what they learned next year, he said.

IndyCar, one of the two leagues that headlined the three-day event, has confirmed that it will return to Baltimore on Labor Day weekend next year. Meanwhile, race organizer Baltimore Racing Development, which has a five-year contract with the city, is facing lawsuits from investors and vendors.

"My hope is that it will happen and we'll have five years of $50 million weekends," Noonan said. "I'll take a quarter of a billion dollars."

The study found that 75,000 spectators came to the event from outside the Baltimore area and 41 percent from out of state.

A survey of 457 spectators on the grounds of the Grand Prix found that 44 percent of spectators stayed overnight, including 27.5 percent who stayed in area hotels. Eighty-eight percent of spectators surveyed for the study said they are likely or very likely to attend the event next year.

That enthusiasm from spectators to come back shows it's a valuable event with growth potential, according to mayor spokesman Ryan O'Doherty.

"It is easy to see a scenario where this event's value for both the racing leagues doesn't eventually overcome any short-term challenges," he said.

The city spent $6.5 million in federal and state funds on repaving roads along the track and BRD was expected to repay the city up to $500,000 for security and other costs surrounding the event.

The study said the event generated tax revenues of $1.7 million for the city and $2.1 million for the state. Promoters had projected a $6 million.

Local economist Anirban Basu backed the methodology of the study, but said he detected a lack of knowledge of the local economy.

"It is quite possible that a certain level of economic activity that would have taken place, did not take place," he said, noting that some area residents may have avoided downtown over the weekend of the event and other that live right on the track may have left town. "That should have been modeled or at least discussed."

There may have been controversies over traffic delays, cutting down trees to make way for grandstands and unpaid vendors, he said, "but at the end of the day I think the event probably should be considered a success."


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