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No Grand Prix at RFK

City, promoter unable to resolve problems

(Published March 10, 2003)


Staff Writer

City officials last week abruptly canceled this summerís planned Grand Prix road race, as neighbors threatened legal action over the event and allegations surfaced that the raceís promoter failed to fulfill contractual obligations to the city.

D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission Executive Director Bobby Goldwater blamed the cancellation on the eventís North Carolina-based promoter, National Grand Prix Holdings LLC, which he said "has repeatedly failed to meet commitments and obligations over the last several months to the commission and others."

Representatives of National Grand Prix Holdings could not be reached for comment.

Despite cancellation of this yearís June 27-29 event, Goldwater said the commission "remain(s) committed to our goal of bringing more the city, including future motor sports events."

The city signed a 10-year contract with the race promoter in 2001 to host the series of Formula One racing events, sanctioned by the International Motor Sports Associationís American Le Mans Series, on the grounds of Robert F. Kennedy Stadium. The sports commission has refused to publicly disclose the contractís terms in their entirety, although it has acknowledged that the promoter can take up to 10 years to repay its half of the track construction costs. The commission was authorized to spend $5.1 million for that purpose.

Last summerís nationally televised inaugural event, which Goldwater said "generated some $12 million in direct spending," was hailed within days of its completion by Mayor Anthony A. Williams as a success that "exceeded our expectations." The mayorís office did not respond to The Common Denominatorís request for comment on the raceís cancellation.

Scott Atherton, president and chief executive officer of the American Le Mans Series, expressed "deep regret" over this yearís cancellation as a result of "operational problems on behalf of the event organizer." He asserted an "unwavering commitment by all involved" to eventually resume the D.C. event.

"We will do everything in our collective power to see that this race returns to our schedule in the near future," Atherton said.

But opponents of the race, including a coalition of nearby residents and environmentalists, expressed equal determination to see that the Grand Prix never returns to the RFK Stadium grounds.

"We intend to fight any continuation of that race," Kingman Park Civic Association President Frazer Walton Jr. told The Common Denominator.

Walton said his civic association was preparing a lawsuit "demanding all contracts and financial records" related to the Grand Prix when this yearís cancellation was announced on March 7. Less than 24 hours before the announcement, Walton said, a neighborhood committee also was formed to address safety and aesthetic concerns over the race promoterís failure to remove "junk stands, rubbish, jersey barriers and other debris" from the stadium grounds after the eventís completion last July.

"Somebodyís gonna have to clean that up," Walton said.

Neighborhood residents and environmental activists recently held a protest against this yearís race as part of a new "Green Scissors" campaign that recommended, among other budgetary items, cancellation of the Grand Prix as a way to protect taxpayers and the environment.

"Canceling this yearís Cadillac Grand Prix means less smog, less noise and more money in the Districtís coffers," said Chris Weiss, director of Friends of the Earthís D.C. Environmental Network, a coalition of local environmental groups.

City officials fined the Grand Prixís promoter last summer for exceeding the 60-decibel noise limit in residential areas. Parts of the racetrack, situated along the Anacostia River, were located within 50 yards of residentsí front doors along Oklahoma Avenue NE. A makeshift plywood "sound barrier" erected along the trackís chain-link fence perimeter was derided by neighborhood residents as falling far short of the promised high-tech noise abatement measures.

Copyright 2003, The Common Denominator