- Associated Press - Thursday, September 8, 2011

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Grand Prix fueled a 44 percent increase in revenue at a sampling of area hotels, city tourism officials said Thursday, but it won’t be clear for a while whether the event can fulfill organizers’ projections of a $70 million impact on the region over five years.

The 11 hotels in the sample represent about 3,000 of the 8,500 rooms at hotels of varying size in the downtown area and one hotel near Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, according to Tom Noonan, president and CEO of Visit Baltimore, the city’s convention and tourism bureau. Labor Day weekend is traditionally the slowest time of the year for the city’s tourism industry.

“I expect that we’re going to see about 40 percent across the board,” Mr. Noonan said. “I wouldn’t call it the best weekend of the year, but I would tell you it just made our Labor Day for sure — in all areas of revenue.”

The data gathered by Forward Analytics, a marketing and economic research firm, also show hotels near the downtown racetrack reported a significant increase in food and beverage sales. More complete numbers from 30 hotels are expected by Oct. 1 and a more comprehensive analysis will be compiled over the next several weeks.

Ticketfly reports more than 100,000 tickets were sold. Race organizers Baltimore Racing Development (BRD) estimates that at 160,000 people attended, according to BRD President Jay Davidson. BRD reports spending more than $3 million on race preparations with city and state companies, but organizers did not expect to turn a profit in the first year.

Baltimore expects to make $11 million from hotel, parking and amusement taxes over the five-year contract with race organizers Baltimore Racing Development, but an estimate of the city’s take from the weekend is not yet available. The only revenue figure available from the city so far is a $75,000, or 119 percent, increase in revenue from city-owned garages over last year for the weekend.

A total city spending estimate has not been compiled, but 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.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the gamble on the event was worth it because she saw families walking around at the event making memories that will last a lifetime and Baltimore will be a part of those.

“I saw this immediately as an opportunity for my city, the city that I love, to shine,” Ms. Rawlings-Blake said. “We know those people will be back because they got to see the Baltimore that we know and love.”

There were some changes organizers and city officials are already planning for next year, Noonan said. While some restaurants around the 2-mile track through downtown saw big increases, others in the city were flat or saw lots of tourists, but few locals over the weekend, he said.

“We got aggressive about the message about traffic downtown and I think it scared away a lot of our locals,” Mr. Noonan said. Traffic was clear outside the core of downtown and local residents could have visited their favorite hangouts, he said. “I think we have to work on that message for next year.”

University of Maryland, Baltimore County professor Dennis Coates, who specializes in sports economics, suspects that the Baltimore Grand Prix spread spending around in a different way, but didn’t increase spending.

“People enjoyed themselves. That’s certainly useful,” Mr. Coates said. “But the economic development aspect? No, that didn’t happen and it’s unlikely that it ever would happen from a three-day event.”


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