Detroit residents with a need for speed and a tight budget will be able to experience Grand Prix races, concerts and other public events without opening their wallet.
The Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear will return to the streets of downtown Detroit from June 2-4 for the first time in 32 years, moving from its longtime location on Belle Isle Park. Event organizers say this year’s race is meant to be more inclusive for Detroiters to attend. Visitors can expect around half of the track to be accessible without buying a ticket, a free concert series at Hart Plaza and free grandstand seating on Friday, June 2.
Penske Corporation President Bud Denker said he first pitched Mayor Mike Duggan on moving the race from Belle Isle to downtown over lunch at Joe Muer Seafood, just a few blocks away from the new dual-lane pit row in the Renaissance Center. Duggan said Denker presented a thick pamphlet of information and started to dive into details, but the mayor cut him off short.
“He didn’t have to open the book, I said ‘what took you so long?,’” Duggan recounted. “I worked down here in the 80s when the Grand Prix was here. It was fabulous. The streets were filled, businesses benefited. I never felt once it moved to Bell Isle, it was ever as connected with the city.”
Duggan said relocating the race to the Detroit Riverfront allows it to be more integrated with the city and its residents. It also opens opportunities for local businesses and creates a festival atmosphere where visitors can hang out in public spaces all day.
“I want people to say ‘I came to Detroit, and I can’t believe how beautiful it is,’” Duggan said. “That’s what we’re looking for, the reaction of every single group that comes here comes away saying ‘this isn’t what I expected.’ We’re building to an NFL Draft in 11 months where 300,000 to 400,000 people are coming from around the country and this is a nice step in that direction.”
Council President Mary Sheffield highlighted efforts to include community members in the event, like the installation of art murals along the track designed by students from the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan, and a small business market in Cadillac Square a few blocks from the track.
Sheffield said the process of issuing permits and managing traffic during construction was a major task. She urged residents to see the fruits of that labor themselves.
“I want to encourage our young people to come out to be safe, to have fun,” Sheffield said. “Do not be discouraged. I know there’s gonna be a lot of traffic and parking issues downtown, but just be patient, give us some grace. This is the first time in 32 years that we’re hosting this event with the cooperation of numerous departments and agencies.”
Detroit Police Chief James White said officers will have a heavy presence downtown to help manage traffic and maintain a safe environment. Undercover units will be deployed in crowds to keep an eye on suspicious behavior, and mounted officers will patrol streets on horseback. White didn’t share details about other crime prevention strategies, but said Detroit is partnering with Michigan State Police and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department.
Duggan and Denker described the Belle Isle race as a more exclusive event, in terms of cost and because the island is physically separated from restaurants and other amenities.
“Belle Isle was a great event but you took a bus there and for the most part when you came off the island you got in your car and went home,” Denker said. “Now you’re going to park down here, you’re going to pass a restaurant, a cafe, the casino. The economic impact will be so much more because of that.”
Paid grandstand seating is set up on portions of the 1.7-mile track, but much of the route will be open for lawn chairs and spectators to watch the high-speed race for free. Denker said attendees can sit eight feet from the race track and feel the speed of cars going upward of 190 miles per hour “hitting your chest.”
Two grandstands, number 1 and 9, are available for free on June 2 on a first-come basis. Visitors can find parking downtown or use the Franklin Garage, located at the corner of Franklin St. and St. Antoine St. for a $75 per day fee.
Grandstands on the Lodge Freeway, Jefferson Avenue near Hart Plaza, Griswold Street and along pit row on Franklin Street are nearly sold out, Denker said. See ticket pricing and availability here.
“I think we’re breaking a lot of barriers with this event,” Denker said. “When the Super Bowl was here, most people couldn’t go to the game because it’s very expensive. They’re going to watch six games here, we have six races that weekend.”
Denker said the Grand Prix won’t turn a profit, but it didn’t when the race was held on Belle Isle, either. Denker said ticket sales are up 120% compared to this point last year. Roughly 100,000 people attended the full weekend of events last year. Dekner said it’s tough to estimate attendance numbers for this year given the changes.
Sunday grandstand seating is sold out, and Denker expects Saturday grandstand seats will sell out in the next week. Corporate chalets are sold out, even after raising the number from 23 on Belle Isle to 70 for the downtown race.
University of Michigan researchers projected $75 million in economic benefit would result from moving the races downtown, compared to $50 million from the Belle Isle race. However, the study didn’t account for the decision to open half of the track for free.
Denker said the economic impact will be studied after the race. Those findings, along with attendance numbers and feedback from city officials, businesses and fans will help determine the future of the race location.
“Nobody is going to make a long-term commitment until we see how it goes,” Duggan said. “But I don’t think there’s any doubt that Roger Penske and Bud Denker have found the enthusiasm for the race has increased dramatically since they moved from Belle Isle.”